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Every Christmas, it was customary for me and members of my family to go over to my grandmother’s house to celebrate. After getting reacquainted and exchanging pleasantries with my grandmother and the rest of our family members, it was time to eat. It was drilled into me when I was young that there were two tables. One was for the adults and other one was for the children, and I knew when I was a child there was no role for me at the adults' table.
Now, I am not trying to give a family history, but I use this example of the adults vs. the kids’ table as a way to show that the CIO’s role in government organizations has been reduced. It has not been reduced in the responsibilities that CIO has to perform, but it has been diminished in their ability to be effective without having a proper seat - that is, face-to-face interaction - with the Secretary or agency head in order to set the strategic IT direction for the organization.
If you look at Clinger-Cohen act that created the role of the CIO, you’ll see it states, "The Chief Information Officer of an executive agency shall be responsible for providing advice and other assistance to the head of the executive agency and other senior management personnel of the executive agency to ensure that information technology is acquired and information resources are managed for the executive agency in a manner that implements the policies and procedures of this division.” It further states that the CIO would “report to the head of the agency on the progress made in improving information resources management capability."
If we read this with a strict interpretation, it would imply that the CIO should report to the head of the agency.
But is this realistic?
Consider a recent statistic published in Federal Computer Week: The CIOs reporting to the CFO have increased to 23 percent, compared to fewer than 10 percent in 2006 and 2007.
Should a CIO have a role with the senior leadership? The answer is yes, for a few reasons.
Most of the new senior leadership and political appointees believe that when they enter an organization that the technology is engrained in the organization and thus does not need to be updated, replaced, etc. Second, in order for IT to support and enable the mission of the agency, the CIO needs to report to the agency head as the CFO is not a representative of the agency. In fact, the CFO tends to solely concentrate on the bottom line effectiveness of the organization but it does not always relate IT to the mission of the organization and usually does not have much idea of how IT supports the organization.
In the current environment, CIOs are definitely experiencing a reduction in their effectiveness. Therefore, the question is how the CIO manages power without having so little of it. Here are a few of my ideas:
These are just a few of the issues that I see for new CIOs to consider as the clock runs out on one administration and we approach the start of a new one. Now is not the time for any CIO to make any waves. Don’t get noticed for making an unfavorable impact.
Change, change, change…. That word is pretty much what we have heard since this presidential primary season started. Naturally, change is something hard for the government to manage. So what area of change can we see when we have a new president and a new Congress in January of 2009?
One answer is very clear: a new wave of federal workers. The retirement wave is picking up steam already, and the government will need new blood.
Incoming federal workers are part of Generation X, Y or what is called the millenniums. These new, younger workers want freedom to do the job, greater flexibility in coming and going to the office, more demanding assignments and an opportunity to challenge the bureaucracy that exists.
One area these workers stand out in is technology. These new workers want to use MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other waves of technology to support their career and as a tool to communicate what they want to accomplish to their colleagues, family and friends.
Government is going to face challenges not in its mission but in how to manage the new and younger people coming in the next few years. This change is not as bad as people think, but it opens dialogue about how best government can adjust to the new wave of federal employees.
How are the new workers different? Here are some probabilities to consider:
1)Redesigned office. New office will most likely be in each worker’s own house. If they come into the office, it will consist of a simple desk, an ethernet port and a portable computer to accomplish all essential tasks. They will not need a standard desktop computer, but only electricity to charge their devices.
2)A virtual working atmosphere. Gen Xers will rarely travel to come into the office. Commuting is not desired by the new generation. They will be focused on performing the work through telework or otherwise remotely. In fact, the new generation will be serving the different agencies in Washington, D.C. but living in Atlanta, Boise, or any other remote location. We can officially call this a virtual working generation.
3)Different incentives. You won’t motivate Gen Xers cash awards and incentive pay. For them, rewards will come in three ways: challenging assignments, increased training, and praise. The new generation will become the most active problem solvers ever, unlike any other generation. The reason is that the new generation will focus on solely on results, and they will have the skills and educational abilities to tackle problems immediately.
4)Flexible working hours. This oncoming generation is about focusing on getting the job finished, and it will mean a different working time from the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For Gen Xers, a workday might be noon until 9 p.m. Some will work all night and sleep during the day; or work on weekends in order to take some days off during the week. One of the most respected CIOs told my graduate school program at George Mason University as we were completing our last semester that working 7 days a week, 24 hours a day will become more the standard in the next five years. I believe he is right. In fact, we are already there.
5)More collaborative environments. The new generation has experience sharing resources, tools, and developing new ways of doing business. Millenniums know that the Web 2.0 and the new social networking technologies are not going to occur across the government without everyone contributing to make it happen. This will also mean not only more federal interagency cooperation, but also stronger relationships with state and local governments and more public-private partnerships.
So what about the mid-career employees that are in government today? Many will resent any change at any cost. They will hold on to their way of doing business when the new workers come into service.
But if mid-career people embrace the change at a certain point, they’ll gain a competitive advantage not only for their organization but also individually so new opportunities will also exist for them.
What is going through the minds of the ones that want to move on as new technologies are developing and new leaders are emerging? Simply: Watching the clock run down and then hand off the baton to the Gen Xers. The current workforce is thinking of retirement at beach houses, traveling and seeing the world, and leaving behind their knowledge for our generation to put to good use. They are looking at the door, leaving us with their legacies and giving us some parting words along the way.
I can hear Bob Dylan’s song right now…