Government CIOs get their own university

Government CIOs get their own university

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

The school bell's ringing'for federal systems executives who want to take graduate courses but have few hours each week to spare.

CIO University is designed for just such busy government officials. Although the university will offer most courses in a classroom, it is not restricted to brick-and-mortar facilities. CIO University comprises four educational institutions that will provide curricula based on the core information technology skills derived from the IT Management Reform Act.

The Chief Information Officers Council and the General Services Administration have selected four schools to participate in the inaugural year: Carnegie Mellon University, George Mason University, George Washington University and the University of Maryland. All the courses will be offered in the Washington area.''

The virtual school project is one cornerstone of a plan drafted by the CIO Council's IT Work Force Committee to help the government meet its demands for an adequately trained IT work force.

CIO University is part of an overall plan for education and training. The program is different than GSA's Strategic and Tactical Advocates for Results program [GCN, May 10, Page 55].

GSA developed STAR for program managers; the university is for senior IT executives.

Seal of approval

The CIO Council endorsed the concept of a virtual university more than a year ago [GCN, July 20, 1998, Page 14].

The university will consist of 'institutions of higher learning offering curricula based on the established federal CIO core competencies, and geared to those in government and industry holding and aspiring to the highest management positions,' according to the IT Work Force Committee's recently issued work force improvement plan.

'There's a lot of education and training out there,' said Agriculture Department deputy CIO Ira Hobbs, co-chairman of the IT Work Force Committee.

But most of the training has not been designed around the core competencies as detailed in ITMRA, he said.

CIO University will be a training program for busy senior executives, said Terry Weaver, the project's manager in the IT Professional Development Division of GSA's Office of IT.

One of the most significant tasks over the past year has been fleshing out the ITMRA core competencies, Weaver said.

The 10 competencies, approved by the council last year, cover broad areas, such as project and program management, capital planning and investment assessment, and policy and organization. But further details were needed.

Different agendas

'If you asked people what [the competencies] are, you'd get different answers,' Weaver said.

So GSA formed a series of focus groups that created a 66-page document of learning objectives, she said.

The focus groups included nearly 100 people from government, industry and academic fields.

The learning objectives, which are being printed in book form and will be available soon, were submitted as an attachment to the April request for information that was used to select the four universities.

CIO University is open to GS-14, GS-15 and Senior Executive Service employees, as well as comparably ranked military and industry officials.

Program participants must be sponsored by their agency. Tuition must be paid by either the agency, business or participant.

The universities chosen to take part in the program took varied approaches to meet the learning objectives.

Some, such as the University of Maryland's University College, combined existing programs with new courses; others created a new curriculum track for CIO University students.

Cynthia Shoemaker, a staff member at George Washington University's Office of Academic Development and Continuing Education, said several aspects of the core competencies match current university programs.

Therefore, CIO University students can enroll in George Washington's master's program in information systems technology, she said.

'Several lines are perfect fits,' said Shoemaker, who has worked with GSA on other education and training initiatives.

Andres Fortino, director of the technology management graduate program at George Mason University's School of Management, said about 80 percent of the requirements were met with present courses.

Carnegie Mellon created the CIO Institute to meet the needs of institutions such as CIO University, said Don McGillen, director of the CIO Institute.

'Our perception was that we were taking existing master's of business administration programs and just trying to wedge a little IT in there,' he said.

The CIO Institute, however, pulls resources from any part of the university to form curricula that fulfill different requirements.

Courses build on
core competencies

  • Policy and organization
  • Leadership and managerial skills
  • Process and change management
  • Information resources strategy and planning
  • IT performance assessment
  • Project and program management
  • Capital planning and investment assessment
  • Acquisition
  • Technical skills
  • Desktop technology knowledge

All the schools made their programs as flexible as possible to work within the busy schedules of senior IT executives.

The programs, however, all require that students devote some of their own time in addition to work time. The Carnegie Mellon program, for example, consists of eight one-week courses.

Course of action

The courses also start at various times. The George Washington program is just about to start, while some won't start until the end of the year.

CIO University graduates receive a certificate and generally receive credit toward full degrees.

GSA and the participating universities will be recruiting students next month at the annual Interagency Resources Management Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

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