Today, federal CIOs must be team-builders on an enterprise level if they hope to be effective leaders. At this point, we’re well aware that IT shouldn’t be perceived as a back-office function. The key challenge is culture change. The business must see the transformative power of the CIO as a business partner. To get there, IT must first be built into a community of people who understand their changing roles in energizing agency missions to reach business objectives.
The business must see the transformative power of the CIO as a business partner
Recent legislation like the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) represents the best opportunity in recent memory to create better insight into Federal IT portfolios. I think this is particularly true for medium and large agencies with multiple components. If executed correctly, FITARA will empower CIOs to collaborate with their teams focusing strategically to produce better outcomes.
To support this, CIOs must:
- Create an environment that leverages the interdependent nature of what can seem like distinct component organizations
- Demonstrate the benefits of working together
- Undertake an unrelenting campaign to foster team-building and a common identity across the enterprise IT community.
The first step is realizing that we’re in IT together.
The CIO of a large federated organization must work to break down barriers between headquarters and component agency IT employees in order to build trust. Taking a top-down approach to implementing enterprise-level activities across component agencies does not inspire confidence or collaboration. As a former component-level CIO, I understand that agencies are closer to the products and services we deliver to the public, and they know the needs and opportunities of their mission best.
Trust can be built with component agencies when headquarters employees responsible for oversight activities understand that they are part of a larger project team. For example, a component agency might want to adopt a new technology that will transform their business. If the technology does not align with established approaches, the Department CIO may need to provide clear support to the headquarters staff to ease the process of integrating the new technology. Opportunities like this engender goodwill and spur innovation at all levels.
Trust can be built with component agencies when headquarters employees responsible for oversight activities understand that they are part of a larger project team. CIOs should enable headquarters and component IT executives to collaboratively manage the identification and implementation of enterprise initiatives.
To achieve this, keep the following in mind:
- A simple process with clear criteria is probably needed to determine when a project or initiative is a candidate for enterprise coordination and activity.
- To leverage the full collective power of an agency, business owners of enterprise initiatives will not necessarily be available at the enterprise level.
- A component agency that has developed a center of excellence in a particular technology, as in the example above, might best be suited to take the lead.
Finally, it’s important to emphasize that the authority of component CIOs does not conflict with the authority of the Department CIO. It’s quite the contrary. In a large federal agency, the best action a Department CIO can take to achieve the intent of FITARA is to help component CIOs elevate their own leadership standing and the status of IT in their respective organizations.
Greater authority for component agency CIOs gives them increased awareness of how IT is used across their organization. Transparency then increases across the enterprise. It also positions them to become true business partners and earn their spot in the sun. From there, these CIOs can energize their organizations to finally take full advantage of the transformative value of information and technology.
That’s what our programs and the public now expect of us.