Dexterous IT organizations

Calif. CIO Clark Kelso spoke to state IT managers about creating dexterous organizations - those that commit to innovation, risk management, and forward-looking decision making.
Written by Phil Windley, Contributor on

Last week California CIO Clark Kelso spoke to state IT managers about building dexterous organizations.  Kelso's points include:

  • The CA legislature expects IT to be "done right."  Certainly the public expects it to be well managed.
  • "[D]oing IT right is very much a matter of proper risk management"
  • Successfully meeting the challenges of service delivery requires more than simply doing IT right--it requires that California State IT workers embrace a new vision of their organization, what Kelso calls the "dexterous organization."

What's a dexterous organization? 

  • "Commitment to innovation throughout the organization"
  • "Willingness to take on and aggressively manage risk and uncertainty"
  • "Forward looking decision making"
  • "Delegation of authority commensurate with responsibility"
  • "Preservation of resources for unexpected contingencies"

Kelso says "An organization that nurtures these behaviors and characteristics is an organization that is primed for organizational dexterity. That is what it is going to take for organizations to survive and thrive in the 21st century."

Kelso couldn't be more right, but it's not clear to me that the characteristics he espouses are consistent with government culture.  When I left government service I wrote a series of articles  that I called "Public Service Tips."  They were somewhat tongue-in-cheek discussions of the differences between working in the public and private sectors.  Looking back, I also acknowledge that they were cathartic--I was taking out some of my frustration and writing to understand what I had happened.  Nevertheless, I came away from government service believing that there are real cultural differences that can't simply be blustered away. 

Innovation happens in government IT, but I think it happens opportunistically, not proactively.   Is Kelso wrong to talk about this? I don't think so.  However, I believe that it's going to take years and structural changes in state IT organizations to achieve. 

Creating new attitudes about risk and innovation will require real understanding and cooperation from legislatures.  Changing the organizations risk profile and appetite without a similar change in the legislature's isn't bold, it's folly.

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