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What the CIO Wants

What do the government’s tech bosses want? George DelPrete, a principal with the professional services network Grant Thornton, has the answers. For the 25th consecutive year, Grant Thornton and the Professional Services Council released their annual federal CIO survey, revealing the issues that concern the government’s CIOs the most.

In an interview with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program, DelPrete delved into the minds of the federal government’s CIOs and extracted the biggest takeaways from the latest Federal CIO survey.

The Top Five

According to DelPrete, the CIO survey results this year indicated five issues that topped CIOs’ concerns: cybersecurity, workforce revitalization, mobility, IT modernization and acquisition.

  1. Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks are not a rare occurrence. However, events like the OPM hack have brought cybersecurity to the forefront of many federal CIOs’ concerns. Survey results indicate that CIOs feel that they are doing a better job understanding and tracking cyber threats but there is no easy fix. As DelPrete explained, cybersecurity is really a marathon; “there’s no resting here.”

  1. Revitalizing the Workforce

Since the sequestration, CIOs have observed a shortage of the talented people who they need. In response to budget cuts, many left CIO offices in search of less-restricted, better funded work environments in the private sector. According to DelPrete, “[f]or every federal IT worker under 30, there are 10 over 50.” CIOs want to reenergize the federal IT workforce by drawing in younger employees with bright new ideas for the future of government technology.

  1. Mobility

CIOs hope to draw in some of those desperately needed young people by recruiting individuals for positions that don’t require them to be onsite. Teleworking has grown, and new technology is continually improving workplace mobility. According to DelPrete, “CIOs have made great strides to allow their workforces to work remotely.” But many feel that they need to expand these digital services and mobilization efforts in order to attract a fresh cohort of young IT employees for the government.

  1. Modernization

Survey results indicate “75 cents of every dollar” currently goes to IT operations, maintenance and infrastructure. Only 8 percent of CIOs say that the technology they have implemented right now is exactly where they want it to be. CIOs want to transform this paradigm, investing more in new technology to bring the government up to speed.

Cloud computing is one of the few technologies giving the government the opportunity to do just that. Several agencies have moved email and web to the cloud, but are waiting for what DelPrete called a “breakthrough innovation” that implements it in a platform and software as a service. This would enable collaborative software delivery, reducing overall IT costs and enhancing the government’s digital service performance. Changes like these present serious integration challenges to CIOs; however, the cloud’s current and future technological modernization benefits outweigh its costs. As DelPrete simply put it, “the cloud is here to stay.”

  1. Acquisition

For many CIOs, federal procurement rules and processes within agencies remain a major obstacle to IT modernization. Right now, it takes too long for government agencies to buy and implement new technology to keep up with today’s standards. To improve technology acquisition, CIOs believe the government needs to take a holistically agile approach.

Rather than simply investing in technology, CIOs want government agencies to be “[a]gile in hiring people, agile in building technology [and] agile in buying technology.” In the past, the government has used the lowest price, acceptable technology contracts; however, CIOs have worked to correct this “race to the bottom” mindset. Many government agencies are beginning to realize that the cheapest contract does not always mean the best value in terms of technological returns. CIOs are now refocusing on the “best” performance value, rather than the cheapest one. Despite these improvements, many federal CIOs believe that there is still a substantial gap between the innovative thinking around agile acquisition and current federal policy.

The Future with FITARA

According to DelPrete, CIOs are hopeful that the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA, will make it easier for government agencies to employ an agile approach. This bill, which passed in December, aims to improve the way government buys and implements technology. The last major government overhaul of information technology acquisition was the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act. Compared to the 1996 law, FITARA gives federal CIOs far greater authority to manage IT acquisitions.

DelPrete explained, “We are hopeful FITARA will foster more collaborative discussion to improve communications and consensus on IT investments across the C suite.” Still, some CIOs remain concerned about a chasm between what they see as the bill’s intent compared to its execution. According to DelPrete, there are concerns about how the bill will play out in different agencies. However, he said, “this [bill] really memorializes a lot of things that were in Clinger-Cohen and takes it to the next level.”

Overall, CIOs are hopeful that FITARA will help them address their main interests by making it easier for agencies to acquire and implement new technology faster. Streamlining IT acquisition opens doors for a number of technological possibilities. While it may not be the end-all solution, FITARA has the potential to ease some of federal CIOs’ concerns for the future of government technology. Positive technological prospects for the future – that’s what a tech boss really wants.

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