The new CIO in town must gain credibility

You’re a federal chief information officer—perhaps new to the job—with
several top-priority action items and a to-do list so long that reading it requires making
an appointment with yourself.

Staff members are complaining about cost overruns and technical delays on a key
software project.

Congressional committee wonks are breathing down your neck about whether your agency is
complying with the Information Technology Management Reform Act.

The General Accounting Office is conducting a fresh review to determine how well your
organization’s performance measures up against the Government Performance and Results

And to top it off, the immutable Jan. 1, 2000, deadline looms.

Before you pick up the phone to rave at your spouse for not talking you out of taking
this thankless job, take a deep breath. Sit back, put your feet up on your standard-issue
government desk and take stock. Look around your office. What does the office of the CIO
say about the individual who is responsible for setting the IT vision and direction of the

For a model of how to take charge, think of the Old West. When a new sheriff came into
town to restore law and order, his first step was to gain the respect and support of his
deputies. How did he do it? First, he made sure he looked the part. His crisp uniform,
spit-shined boots, polished badge and oily guns let the deputies know he meant business.

As a new CIO, you are going to be evaluated by your staff based on the boots you wear
and the six-shooters you carry. If you use IT effectively in your own domain, you will
gain the respect and support of the people who can most effectively help you accomplish
your mission.

Here is a checklist of questions to help you measure your IT credibility:

You don’t need to become a computer geek to get your house in order. In fact, you
should rely on the talents and expertise of your staff to set up, configure and customize
your office. At the very least you will have to learn how to use the technological tools
that can make your job easier. Sometimes it will be easy, sometimes frustrating. But the
final reward will be a higher degree of respect and support from your team—an
invaluable asset as you begin to tackle that list of action items.  

Dave Jefferson is director of technology for Highway 1, a nonprofit information
technology educational consortium in Washington. He consults regularly with federal chief
information officers.


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