A case for government CTOs

A case for government CTOs

Summary: A recent report by the NGA (National Governor's Association) Center for Best Practices reiterated the need for Governors to have strong, effective CIOs to manage their IT infrastructure.  You might think this is a foregone conclusion, but some states still wonder, and each new wave of Governors struggles with the right mix anew.

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TOPICS: Government
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A recent report by the NGA (National Governor's Association) Center for Best Practices reiterated the need for Governors to have strong, effective CIOs to manage their IT infrastructure.  You might think this is a foregone conclusion, but some states still wonder, and each new wave of Governors struggles with the right mix anew. 

I think Governments need CTOs as well.  In my book, the difference between a CIO and a CTO  is as clear as day.  A CIO is inward looking, managing the IT infrastructure and concerned with holding down cost.  A CTO is outward looking, developing products, and concerned with growth.  Some companies, and most government entities, either don't understand the difference or think one person can do both jobs.  In small organizations, you may have to have one person do both jobs, but in my experience that's far from ideal. The skill sets necessary to  do one are different than those required by the other.  What's more, even for people who have sufficiently broad skills, there's just too much work to do.  The budgetary, operational, and  process requirements of being a good CIO will suck up all the available time.

Here's a case in point.  I'm a pilot.  The FAA issues what are called NOTAMs (notices to airmen) on a fairly routine basis.  These might tell about closed runways, temporary restrictions on airspace, and so on.  Right now, you have to do some searching to find NOTAMs.  Why isn't there an RSS feed?  I'd love to have a customizable RSS feed of NOTAMs that I could display in my aggregator or on my My Yahoo! page.  

We can blame the usual list of suspects: budget, priority, and so on.  But I believe that there's a higher-level, more structural problem.  There's no CTO for the FAA.  There's no one person who's job it is to think everyday about how the FAA can use IT to make the lives of its customers better.  (Actually the FAA does have someone they call the CTO, but if you look at the job description for that position, its not a CTO as I'm describing.  All the goals and duties are inward looking for the IT department.)

When I was CIO for Utah, the Governor used me often as a CTO, calling me into meetings with technologists and asking my advice on technology issues that went well beyond the IT infrastructure that is the CIO's typical domain.  I also spent considerable time working on eGovernment issues, again something I'd consider the CTO's domain. 

I think it's time that government entities recognized the difference between CIOs and CTOs in their organizations.   There's too much I want from Government IT beyond efficient operations.  I believe IT has the power to transform, for the better, how government works and most importantly, how citizens interact with it.    Having CTOs, charged with this transformation, will go a long way toward making the dream a reality. 

Topic: Government

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