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The Changing Role of the CIO – It’s not just a bureaucratic blackhole

10 years ago the role of the Chief Information Officer was radically different than it is today. Consider this, in 2013 the federal government will spend more than $80 billion on IT. And in the last 8 years they’ve spent more than $500 billion. The CIO must now oversee the most complex business organization on the planet. That’s no easy task. So how do they do it effectively? And is the role going to continue to evolve?

Anthony Robbins is the Vice President for Federal at Brocade. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that 10 years ago the role of the CIO was much more bureaucratic in nature.

“There was a time when the role of the CIO was a lot less technical. The requirements and authority was less prominent so there was a lesser view of the job. That has changed. These days there is more appreciation for how technology can evolve the business of government. There are a lot of things that are converging that make the role of the CIO one of the most important roles in government,” said Robbins.

Legacy Systems Vs. Strategic Planning

“In large parts of the government the CIO gets pulled in two directions; maintaining business as usual and the ability to plan strategically for the future. Studies show that up to 70% of IT budgets go to legacy systems. There is the added fact that there is so much uncertainty surrounding the budget process right now with continuing resolutions, sequestration and political dynamics that it creates a challenging environment for CIOs to figure out how to fund innovation.”

Power of the Purse

“When Roger Baker was the CIO at the Department of Veterans Affairs he had a different level of authority than most the average CIO in government. He had budget authority. For most CIOs budget authority is not owned by them, so the conundrum of how you change from that space is a very real challenge.”

How CIOs Have to operate:

  • Change by Influence: “If you don’t have the power of the purse and lack budgetary control then you have to change by influence. You have to build consensus to get people to move to a new platform or program and that takes a lot of time. When you add in that leadership changes every couple of years in government, you can easily understand why transforming an organization is hard and can take a long time.”
  • The ability to lead change. “In commercial companies if you have a crisis of some sort, they will go outside and acquire talent that’s world class at solving the crisis. You have to acquire talent that is highly paid, skilled and effective at leading such change. The could be an issue or an opportunity for the federal government.”
  • Technical competencies. “CIOs today need to be as technical competencies and their staff need to have the skills to lead change and innovation that must occur to modernize IT in the federal government.”

“I have said for a long time the federal government doesn’t have a problem with funding with respect to how much money they spend on IT but because of the complexity of the federal government the lack of budget authority and the antiquated acquisition system, there are very real challenges, so it take special leadership to show real progress.”

Clinger Cohen Act

Despite the Clinger Cohen Act, Senator Tom Carper says agency CIO’s are still not seen as the key leaders at agencies on IT. “There is no doubt that it is a problem, there are lots of reports out there that show how much money is spent on IT and what the success rate is of large programs.”

Private vs. Public Sector

“In the commercial space the CIO plays a huge role at bringing innovation into the enterprise. The tolerance of risk has to go up. Fear can be a roadblock for change. But in reality R&D and enterprise platforms to the cloud. To the extent that our federal government doesn’t go there rapidly the cost of today’s infrastructure is only going to increase. We’ve been advocating putting a circle around your three biggest concerns and figure out how to deal with it.”

Robbins’ To Do List for CIOs

  1. Get your enterprise cloud ready faster. Moving email to the cloud isn’t really a big or bold step. That was done in the commercial marketplace years ago.
  2. Get real on data center consolidation. There should be far less than 500 data centers supporting the federal government. The current track of the plan isn’t nearly as agressive as it should be.
  3. Get on platforms of open standards.
  4. Just do it. Do what the rest of the world has been doing for decades.

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