Here’s my disclaimer – this isn’t an ego trip. This is just me, talking about what I know, namely being a government CIO. But most of what I am saying is applicable to most technology jobs in government. If you disagree, please feel free to use the comments section below – I welcome any and all constructive debate!
Being a government CIO is not an easy job. Last year, NextGov reported that the average tenure for agency CIOs is only two years. For state CIOs, it’s only 20 months! It’s not a job for a slacker, a underachiever or a clock puncher. It requires time, energy, creativity, patience and a strong stomach and spine. And to make matters worse, the job is constantly evolving. Many recent articles (see for example CIO’s Role Shifts From Managing Information to Promoting Innovation) have described the evolution of the CIO role – moving from a technology operations manager to that of a change agent. Of course that technology management role doesn’t disappear (see my earlier note about NO slackers). But the focus shifts to broader topics, stronger integration into the business strategy of the organization. A recent article from CIO.com paints a broad picture of the next decade:
CIOs can expect their jobs to change dramatically by the end of the decade. Expect an increased role in everything from business planning and cybersecurity to robot management and, of course, the cloud.
Wait. Robot management? Wow. Now that has some serious potential, but I digress.
The simple point is this: CIOs must be willing to innovate or die trying. We’d better be sharp and solid. We are the catalyst for change and improvement. We got to be nimble but we also need to put down roots when necessary. We’ve got to have the guts to boldly venture out into the darkness but also know when to hang back. And we’ve got to remember that you cannot do it alone. Gloryhounds, techno-dilettantes and those not willing to share successes and opportunities with the innovators on your team who are backing you up and pushing you forward will fail. End of story.
You’ve got to balance leadership and empowerment; be a coach, a student, a listener, a talker and a counselor. Like I said…not easy. And in government, with stretched funds and dozens of individual lines of business, the pressure is tenfold.
That being said, I love my job. I am only a few weeks into my third municipal CIO gig, but I can already tell that I am meant to be here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but in this hotseat. The energy in a well-run IT shop, percolating with talent, is practically intoxicating to me. It’s like a raw diamond that I get to help polish into a thing of beauty. We build the things that people need – to do their jobs, to run their business or to live their lives. And I am a part of it…and they pay me too? Sign me up!
If you are a private sector CIO, you are missing out my friend. Yeah, I bet you’ve got gobs of money and you’re on the short track to early retirement, but I’ve got a few things that I bet you don’t. Government CIOs have a leg up in many ways. You gotta be in it for the “right” reasons, but here’s a few things to think about when it comes to being a government techie:
Stewardship – we are entrusted with public funds. We are living off of everybody’s taxes, so we must constantly challenge ourselves to do the most with the least. We can’t/don’t/won’t just toss cash at a problem to make it go away. We’ll think it through and get all kinds of creative on it. The gauntlet has been thrown.
Teamwork –The best projects come from a team – a team of customers, techies and maybe even a few quality vendor folks as well. Bringing together a team of independent players around the war table to solve a common problem or reach a shared goal is a very good feeling.
Collaboration – We have a giant network of peers across the globe. Fellow techies on a similar mission. And guess what? We don’t have trade secrets. We’re all about sharing – best practices, projects, people and ideas. We are in competition with ourselves, not each other, so we can build and share and maximize whatever limited resources we’ve got.
Diversity – Governments are dozens of independent businesses wrapped into one organization. They patrol the streets, they loan books, they put out fires, they help you vote, they teach you to swim, they [INSERT A HUNDRED OTHER ACTIVITIES HERE]. And each of those functions uses IT. They need automation. They need project management. They need business process re-engineering. They need databases. They need mobile apps. They need phones. They need radios. They need [INSERT A THOUSAND OTHER SERVICES HERE]. Keep it fun. Keep it fresh. Keep it moving.
Creativity – The economy has shrunk. Recovery might be on the way, but it won’t be quick. As budgets shrink, agencies turn to IT for cost savings – let’s automate these manual processes, let’s upgrade to self-service, etc. Our funding is reduced too, yet the project load doesn’t shrink accordingly. Demands go up but funding, staffing and resources dwindle or if you’re lucky, they stay level. If necessity is the mother of invention, government IT must be the father. We stretch, twist, pull and mold ideas out of best practices, what our neighbors are doing or even some dark and squirrely recess of our mind.
Evolution – The only constant in technology is change. Today is no different. Yesterday, the cloud, open data and BYOD were all theoretical. Today, we are living through them (like it or not). Tomorrow they’ll be resolved and we’ll face new challenges and adventures. At the 2012 North Carolina Digital Summit, Dr. Shannon Tufts from the UNC School of Government said that we should not have technology projects; there should only be business projects with technology components. Point taken. Platform is irrelevant. Service, information and processes should rule the day. Stay open, stay involved, and communicate with customers if you want to stay relevant.
To all my fellow government CIOs and technology types, did I do this justice? I welcome your debate and feedback; I am always up for a fresh perspective! What have I missed? Where do we differ? Where do we agree? Since our roles are so dynamic, let’s make this an ongoing conversation!