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Business Intelligence and Federal CIO Priorities

Originally published May 4, 2010

Sometimes I don’t know whether to be confused or just disappointed. On April 7, CIO Insight published a list of the top seven priorities in 2010 for Federal CIOs. It was reporting on a survey conducted by TechAmerica based on interviews with 40 federal CIOs from a number of different agencies. For the last 20 years or so, TechAmerica has been preparing these annual reports, and they are helpful in providing insights into the federal IT leadership’s perceptions of what they see as their principal challenges.

The seven priorities listed in the current study should, in principle, reflect the biggest long-term issues that federal CIOs face as they scan their environment today. Their ranking, in order of importance, follows below:

  1. Cybersecurity
  2. IT infrastructure 
  3. IT workforce
  4. IT management
  5. Efficiency and effectiveness
  6. Performance management and accountability
  7. Acquisition
Why am I disappointed? Because this list seems so focused on IT basics that it appears to shortchange the implementation of any truly transformative initiative. And these are the ones that are most urgently needed.

Not that cybersecurity, infrastructure or IT management aren’t important. Of course, they are prerequisites to be able to operate the IT environments that support our operations. But when are we going to implement robust knowledge management environments, citizen-facing dashboards and collaboration spaces for both the federal IT workforce as well as for the taxpayer to easily provide input to the government?

Now, I am partially confused because if you read the President’s Management Agenda, it very specifically emphasizes collaboration, participation, innovation and transparency. These are the keystone components of Obama’s governance as the nation’s Chief Executive Officer. What’s more, Vivek Kundra, the federal CIO, has been a breath of fresh air pushing for these much needed reforms.

Further still, the administration’s “IT management agenda” highlights these four points that appear to be mirrored in the TechAmerica rankings, though not necessarily in the same order:
  • Manage large-scale IT projects well
  • Enable transparency, collaboration and participation in government
  • Enhance cybersecurity 
  • Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs through IT
But here is where I would have expected that our federal CIOs might have felt a bit more comfortable with the progress they have made with infrastructure, IT management and the workforce to start focusing on the business of the business and not just the IT technical side.

Just to give you a sense of what I mean, take a look at what Gartner listed as the top ten business priorities of CIOs in general, not just their federal brethren:
  1. Improving business processes
  2. Cutting enterprise costs 
  3. Increasing use of information/analytics in decisions 
  4. Improving enterprise workforce effectiveness 
  5. Attracting/retaining new customers 
  6. Creating new products/services (innovation) 
  7. Managing enterprise change initiatives 
  8. Expanding current customer relationships
  9. Supporting regulatory reporting and compliance
  10. Consolidating business operations
Browsing this list provides an understanding that CIOs are trying very hard to align themselves with their enterprise priorities. In tough times, it is very much about business processes, cost control, customer retention and innovation. To a larger degree, the IT infrastructure, management and workforce are a given. Yes, they have to be addressed, but the principal priorities are aligned with their firms’ management agenda.

Hence, I would have expected the federal CIO community to establish a priority ranking that was much more focused on the customers, the taxpayers, and not so much on the IT itself. Which leads to another potential source of my confusion since a little over 6 months ago, there was another report on federal CIO challenges that was at least a bit more customer oriented. (See: “What’s your customer thinking,Washington Technology, August 2009.) In that article, the top 10 government IT priorities were listed as follows:
  1. Increase security
  2. Increase efficiency/productivity
  3. Data/knowledge management
  4. Information sharing
  5. Improve infrastructure
  6. Continuity of operations
  7. Increase collaboration with other agencies
  8. Enterprise architecture
  9. Network-centric operations
  10. Interoperable communications
Data/knowledge management, information sharing, increased collaboration…these are priorities much more aligned with an agency’s mission rather than the seven that TechAmerica reported last week.

Ultimately CIOs, whether they are in government or in the private sector, must have priorities that mirror and support their enterprise goals and strategies. When so much emphasis is placed on those aspects of the business that are exclusively in the IT domain, it is an indication that priorities are skewed in the wrong direction.

At least that’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


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