EXECUTIVE SUITE: CIOs ' Be true to your name

Mimi Browning

It is not without irony that CIOs are named chief information officers. Ask any IT-savvy person what they think of when they hear the term CIO, and the answers will be the traditional ones. CIOs assure that networks are secure, desktop computing is user friendly, portfolio management is used to evaluate and prioritize capabilities, and IT acquisition is accomplished in a fair and cost-effective manner. CIOs are also viewed as IT stewards, guaranteeing (per Clinger-Cohen) that IT costs are contained and that IT becomes an enabler of the organization's mission success.

Sadly, information sharing is rarely mentioned as a fundamental responsibility of CIOs. That vaunted concept of the post 9/11 world, information sharing, remains an elusive aspiration for CIOs as well as C-suite inhabitants. Yet information sharing surely is the CIOs' stretch goal, since they and their staffs have always been organizations' de facto catalysts and boundary-spanners. CIOs are the natural leaders for establishing information-sharing environments.

CIOs can advance information-sharing progress and performance using a framework that integrates five key elements: governance, policy, technology, culture and economics.

Governance: Governance establishes the mechanisms to ease organizational and political issues and foster an information-sharing environment. Typical mechanisms include processes, oversight councils and decision rights. An agreed-upon governance structure provides a consistent, more collaborative approach to information sharing. It also facilitates stakeholder buy-in and engenders trust for difficult challenges.

Policy: With governance mechanisms in place, policies can be developed. Policy components include the strategies, standards, doctrines and rules that must be adopted and accepted by individuals, organizations and communities of interest. Policy-making is most successful when it links to common organizational goals. Classic information-sharing goals include mission-centric information, faster data access, security and risk reduction.

Technology: Using governance and policy as foundations, CIOs can orchestrate the development of enterprise technology to enable information sharing. Proven technology capabilities include data management (enabling search and dissemination across repositories and domains) and service-oriented architectures (enabling connectivity across platforms). Technology information-sharing capabilities should also address, and ideally embed, security and privacy measures to protect sources and citizens.

Culture: Fostering the will to share among individuals, agencies and communities of interest is perhaps the most difficult of all the information-sharing elements. Three traditional barriers need to be actively addressed: the data ownership culture, information overload and (especially in the classified worlds) the tendency to restrict, not share. CIOs, in their boundary-spanner role, can lead the development of strategies to foster trust and collaboration. In their catalyst role, CIOs can promote new approaches to information sharing, such as seeding knowledge brokers, implementing individual and organizational incentives, and training information coaches to foster an information-sharing climate.

Economics: The value of information sharing needs to be demonstrated not only to the financial guardians of an enterprise but, more important, to the stakeholders who expect it to improve their mission performance. CIOs have considerable experience in portfolio management, business case analysis strategies and IT cost containment metrics. These economic methods can be adapted to successful information-sharing investments, performance and overall financial stewardship.

CIOs know there are no silver bullets for information sharing. If they remain true to their heritage as information leaders, CIOs, in concert with their executive colleagues, can establish, promote and sustain a high-performance information-sharing environment.

Mimi Browning is a former Army senior executive who currently is a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va. She can be reached at browning_miriam@bah.com.

About the Author

Browning is a former Army senior executives and former Booz Allen Hamilton principal who now leads Browning Consultants.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above