Government CIOs have what it takes

Highway
1 is connected to the very-high-performance Backbone Network Service for the Next
Generation Internet. The link has made Highway 1 a frequent site for briefings about the
Internet follow-on. The organization also brings the Chief Information Officers Council
together with industry executives and acts as a technology resource for policy-makers.


The establishment of CIOs at cabinet departments was an important move, Jenkins said,
but department secretaries need to give CIOs a seat at the management table if they want
IT to have a positive impact in government.


Jenkins worked at Microsoft Corp.’s education division and directed market
development for Next Software Development of Redwood City, Calif., before starting a
marketing firm, Jenkins/McMurray Group of Palo Alto, Calif. She has a bachelor’s
degree and a doctorate from Duke University.


GCN senior editor William Jackson interviewed Jenkins at Highway 1 in Washington.


What’s more



Family: Two boys

Last book read: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom


Car now driving: Ford Expedition


Leisure activities: “Taking kids to soccer games and serving as head
cheerleader.’’


Motto: “Work like you don’t need the money; love like you’re never hurt;
dance like nobody’s watching.’’


GCN: What’s
your view on the government’s acceptance of online technology?


JENKINS: When I founded Highway 1, it wasn’t clear what the need was. I used to
lie awake at night worrying that absolutely no one would show up. When we opened our doors
in June 1995, only four senators and 10 House members even had home pages.


Today, almost every member of the Senate has a home page, and more than half of the
House members do. What I lie awake at night thinking about now is how we are going to
handle the demand. There is tremendous interest not only in Congress but also among the
agencies.


GCN: Do you think agencies
are ahead of the curve or playing catch up?


JENKINS: There is a lot of variation. We deal with everything from very sophisticated
people who are leading the information technology revolution to real novices.


Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) several times has called his colleagues ignorant of
technology and has asked us for help so that when senators start to write, say, Internet
taxation laws, they will at least have spent some time on the Internet and know what they
are doing.


Two years ago, when the IT Management Reform Act instituted the chief information
officer position and a process for evaluating progress, I saw a dramatic increase in the
commitment to integrating IT.


GCN: Is
Highway 1 a lobbying organization?


JENKINS: That is a common misconception. We are funded by industry, which has talented
lobbyists, and we stay completely out of their path. We are not a sales organization.


Part of what makes us credible is that we are nonthreatening. We don’t take any
political view. We focus on helping [decision-makers] understand technology. The companies
that fund us know the long-term payback in raising understanding.


GCN:  Have you seen any
results?


JENKINS: There are changes in Congress. They are reaching out to their constituents
through the Internet, which they never did before, and that is something we were early
advocates of. We put on classes for staffs.


We have taken the lead in showcasing the future of the Internet. We are closely aligned
with the Next Generation Internet and Internet 2. We have had leading researchers
demonstrate their applications.


At one event, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a heart-lung transplant surgeon, put on 3-D
goggles and guided a tour through the inner ear. As a medical student, he spent weeks
trying to understand it. It’s so small you can’t dissect it easily, and you
can’t see the complexity in a textbook. For the first time, he got to go through and
rotate it.


Immediately after this, he went up to the Hill and called a hearing to talk about
appropriations for the Next Generation Internet.


We’re working right now with the Veterans Benefits Administration. It currently
takes three months to process benefits. Highway 1 has been asked to bring all the partners
into the game and use technology to reduce the time to a month. By the end of the year, we
should see if that goal has been met.


GCN: Federal CIOs are a
new breed struggling to define their role. Do they have the expertise and the resources
they need?


JENKINS: I’ve been impressed by the caliber of people in this position. Highway 1
is closely aligned with the federal CIO Council. We’ve been invited by them to bring
in industry CIOs. The CIOs are pretty sharp. They are asking substantial questions.


What they don’t always have is the commitment from above. Many CIOs have a hard
time getting the mind-share of their cabinet secretaries.


When we bring in senior industry leaders to share what they are doing, it’s about
how to run the business more effectively. It’s a management process. They don’t
talk about the intricacies of products. It’s about using tools to make wise
decisions.


If you’re going to make IT part of your business strategy, it has to be at the
highest level. It’s not about whether you’re going to have this platform or that
platform; it’s how you’re going to run the business.


GCN: Has there been a
shift in the momentum of technology leadership away from the government?


JENKINS: Government has a tremendous amount of clout in pushing industry to create
products. More than $30 billion a year is spent on IT. Government is moving in the
direction of letting industry do a lot of the development, but it is playing a big role as
a partner in defining the needs.


The government is the driving force behind the Next Generation Internet. Part of it,
funded by the National Science Foundation, is a group of 127 universities that comprise
what is known as Internet 2. It is managed by the University Consortium for Advanced
Internet Development, which is developing applications that will run on the Next
Generation Internet.


GCN: What is Highway
1’s involvement?


JENKINS: We host many of the demonstrations. We help bring industry, government and
academia together. Unlike the first Internet, government, industry and the university
community are equal partners for Internet 2.


In many ways, we are translators. We take sophisticated research and translate it for
people on the Hill who have to decide if this is worth spending money on.


GCN: Is NGI ready to go
beyond test and demonstration projects?


JENKINS: Very shortly. Today it is still in the demonstration phase and at least six
months away from actual use.


GCN: What are the
government’s major IT needs and shortcomings?


JENKINS: At the bottom, what is the government’s mission? It’s a different
bottom line from industry’s. It provides service to the public. It uses technology to
make information easier to find, to get services out and to reduce the cost of running
government.


Government comes up with needs such as electronic commerce and information security. It
has to protect citizens’ private information. Industry can be a lot more
risk-oriented.


GCN: The government has
been promoting electronic commerce. How well is it doing?


JENKINS: There are a lot of hurdles and risks, and I think the government is
appropriately taking its time and being somewhat cautious. I have heard a number of CIOs
express tremendous interest in how they can use electronic commerce.


I don’t think they are as far along as industry is. Part of their job is to
protect the public, and there are just too many risks now.


GCN: How good a job are
agencies doing on the year 2000 problem?


JENKINS: They’re taking it seriously. Different agencies are in different places
in terms of how well they’re handling it. I’m encouraged that the president came
out with a number of aggressive plans. He set March 1999 as a deadline for all agencies to
be year 2000-ready. He has put an extremely talented guy [John Koskinen] in charge of
meeting with agencies every single day to see where they are and get assessments of what
they have to do.


The president is not only telling the U.S. government that this needs to be done. I
think he’s prodding industry, which also has a lot of problems. I’m very
encouraged to see President Clinton speaking out.


GCN: Have you seen any
impact on other programs because of the distraction caused by this problem?


JENKINS: I don’t think so. The budgets of many agencies have risen, and a lot of
that increase is going to the year 2000 problem. But I still see people on a regular basis
taking care of other technology needs. And part of that is attributable to ITMRA, which is
a strategic plan to revolutionize how these agencies operate. There is a clear plan with
performance measures.


GCN: What effect will the
General Services Administration’s Seat Management Program have?


JENKINS: Government is employing the same business strategy as industry, which is
focusing on what it does best. That doesn’t mean you don’t oversee technology.
The CIO is not some management information systems guy down the hall anymore. He is a
smart business manager who will oversee outsourcing and other initiatives. 

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