How a chief collaboration officer can help IT projects succeed
- By Shawn McCarthy
- Aug 04, 2014
In recent years, some progressive companies have hired a chief collaboration officer to help guide joint projects, partnerships and shared services. Too often, collaboration falls in a gap between the CIO, the human resources office and the CEO. A CCO is a great idea, and one that some government organizations (including the Navy) are starting to explore.
And it’s a good time for this type of executive appointment. Government agencies at all levels are moving more of their IT solutions to the cloud or to shared services, and in the process they are running into road blocks, including:
- Incompatible systems that make consolidation challenging
- Turf battles that make IT managers reluctant to give up control
- Lack of return-on-investment measurements, which can make it tough to decide which IT investments carry the biggest payoff
- Multiple platform choices that can determine an agency’s long-term technology path.
A CCO could serve as a specialist capable of addressing these and other barriers, in a way that helps IT managers focus on transformative technologies and services . A CCO could also serve as part of the team that tackles IT reporting related to the Office of Management and Budget's PortfolioStat.
What a CCO does
In industry, a CCO is dedicated to focusing on collaboration as an ongoing part of the daily business process within an organization. A government CCO should ideally be a member of the C-level suite, giving the role enough power (and funding) to help champion select projects and organizational efforts.
The CCO is responsible for integration, whether that be linking technology, multiple data sources, procurement offices or cloud based IT services. Some collaboration efforts may address pure technology issues, while others may need to address cultural challenges, management structures and workflow issues within an institution.
The CCO could also be responsible for investments that benefit multiple sub agencies – or programs across agencies. The CCO becomes both the evangelist for collaboration and the champion that coordinates the project. Additionally, a CCO might even help coordinate crowdsourcing efforts, panels that review project effectiveness or collaboration conversations across an enterprise.
The challenge is that many CCOs will not have a large staff to help them achieve the lofty goals that come with the office. Instead, many will have a series of "dotted line" reports, and their leverage will come through the power of the agency secretary or CEO, CFO and CIO, who are likely to encourage collaboration in order to cut costs, improve performance and enhance citizen services.
Who should serve as a CCO?
In most organizations today, a variety of senior executives are responsible for the duties outlined above. Some might argue that these duties already belong to the CEO (in government, the agency secretary or department-level director), but these folks often cannot dedicate all of their time to collaboration and project coordination. Thus a dedicated resource is needed.
However, it can be difficult to find an executive who actually has a broad background in collaboration. Thus, experience in arbitration, negotiation, communications and project portfolio management are basic requirements for a CCO. The job also requires skills in change management, with at least a working knowledge of behavioral and cultural or ethnographic issues. The position also requires a deep knowledge of technology. A good CCO should be aware of successful use cases within the enterprise and be able to highlight why these collaborative efforts worked and why they had a positive impact on the organization.
In many cases, the CCO role will launch as a secondary duty of a current top-level executive who can establish what is expected from the role. The CCO can expand into a fulltime job as the early efforts succeed. Some starting points may be:
- For technical collaboration, the CCO duties could be carried out by someone in the CIO's office.
- For CCO duties that focus on incentives, performance evaluations and criteria for promotions, someone from the HR office might be the best coordinator.
- When collaboration means showing how partnerships and shared projects will save money and improve efficiencies, someone from the CFO's office might best fit the bill.
Many of the issues outlined in the Presidents Management Agenda or the National Initiatives of the Federal CIO Council can be addressed via a CCO. No matter how the office evolves, the appointment of agency-level chief collaboration officers is an idea whose time has come, and the concept is worth exploring, especially at larger agencies.