Friday, August 26, 2016
CIOs highlight several factors critical to successful modernization of IT infrastructure, a key issue for both the public and private sectors.

Federal Chief Information Officers, like their private sector CIO counterparts, lead the integration of information technology and organizational strategy.  CIOs must balance the daily needs of operational IT across their enterprise with how IT can contribute to longer term mission goals, while at the same time overseeing policy and resources for IT in a challenging fiscal environment.  U.S. Government CIOs are also in the midst of working with their C-Suite colleagues to implement the Federal Information Technology and Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) , which strengthens the role of CIOs in budgeting and acquisition and fosters a governance framework for IT, functional, and mission leaders across agencies.

Given the expanding role for CIOs to help drive IT toward addressing key mission objectives, the Center for The Business of Government  hosted a CIO Leadership Forum with several dozen public and private sector IT and C-Suite leaders earlier this summer.  This non-attribution session promoted candid dialogue across government and industry for how CIOs can best drive change in their organizations, in three specific domains:

  • Modernizing IT given aging infrastructures, leveraging the rapid growth in modern cloud, analytic, and cognitive platforms;
  • Making cybersecurity actionable, rather than compliance-oriented; and
  • Capitalizing on the revolution in mobile computing, which has been the source of great advances in how citizens and governments interact anywhere and anytime.

This second of several posts addressing key points arising from the CIO Leadership Forum will focus on the first issue, modernizing IT.  (See the introductory overview post.)


Modernizing IT is About the Business, Not the Technology

Roundtable participants agreed that before focusing on a particular technology path, CIOs and IT leaders should reach out to their business partners and develop shared objectives about the value to the mission, as well as service quality in delivering that value for external and internal customers.  With that context, CIOs can then develop transformation plans for IT that tie to key organizational outcomes and not simply how fast or efficiently the technology operates.  Similarly, CIOs can build a business case for modernization funding by identifying a means of measuring return on investment through metrics that are relevant to business needs.

Another key business strategy for modernization discussed by the roundtable involves what technology should be delivered in a common way across the agency or business as a shared service -- with collective investment to ensure currency in shared infrastructure -- and what applications should be owned locally in a bureau or operating division.  Effective organizations often make these decisions through a governance framework that balances the needs to individual units with the overall enterprise, where decisions are made by leaders from multiple offices across the agency or company.

Roundtable attendees noted that approach has proven successful across public and private sector enterprises.  Indeed, industries that have very different use cases (e.g., utilities, defense, sports, healthcare, homeland security) and which provide a service to a population, all have real time requirements, and all can benefit from IT modernization that support their business goals.


IT Matters Too 

Within the context of a business guidepost for modernization, roundtable participants then discussed the CIO’s responsibility to develop and lead an IT strategy that supports business outcomes. This strategy can be built from key elements that include:

  • Implementing a bimodal architecture, which recognizes that public and private sector enterprises will rely on both existing infrastructure and new innovation in parallel. Mission critical functions often must continue on legacy systems.
  • Identifying new pathways to modernize within this bimodal framework that leverage emerging technologies, including cloud computing, analytics, and cognitive paradigms.
  • Creating agile environments to prototype new pathways, enabling experimentation and rapid iteration in a “sandbox” where developers can test different approaches before scaling up in a production setting to address business needs.

By building security and privacy into solutions throughout this lifecycle, CIOs can discuss and drive secure solutions that sustain durable outcomes, rather than putting up barriers that lead users to seek unsecure work-arounds  The next post in this series will address roundtable perspectives on security more generally.


Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at