Interview: Gloria Parker

Sound IT operations are policy-driven

When Gloria Parker became chief information officer at the Housing and Urban Development Department a year and a half ago, she knew she would be working on policy, but she did not realize she would have to build a CIO organization. That meant hiring staff and getting HUD to recognize the CIO's role.

Parker came to HUD from the Education Department, where she was deputy CIO. Before that she had spent 17 years at IBM Corp. IBM hired her from the doctoral program in mathematical statistics at Ohio State University when she was in her second year of the five-year program. Parker has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Hampton Institute, now Hampton University.

Chicago free-lance writer Merry Mayer interviewed Parker by telephone.

GCN:'When you became chief information officer a year ago, you planned to focus on information technology policy rather than operations at the Housing and Urban Development Department. Did that happen?

PARKER: It worked out very well. Most times when a CIO is managing all the operational stuff, as well as policy, the operational fires take precedence. But as we were developing the Chief Information Office, policy moved into the office first.

That gave us the opportunity to focus on things that typically don't get focus, such as skills development, skills studies for IT, business process re-engineering, capital planning and IT investment strategies. The top priority was year 2000, which took priority over a lot of operational things.

We also are focusing on performance metrics and things that typically don't have any focus when you have an operation that is taking all the focus due to day-to-day operational issues. We've implemented a lot of new things. We have a new Office of IT Reform, which focuses on a number of the issues I just discussed. We've begun to develop a number of new initiatives to help IT and mold a lot of the operational issues, so instead of fixing one problem at a time, or putting out little fires, we are building a brick house that won't burn down.

GCN:'Were you able to do that because of changes you made to the structure of the IT shop?

PARKER: We were able to do it because we left operations in administration for now and that gave me the opportunity to really focus on policy and management issues.

GCN:'Will the operations oversight eventually come back to you?

PARKER: Over time it probably will move to the CIO Office. I think everyone at HUD agrees that that is the way it should work, but for right now it is more important to put a lot of emphasis on policy and management.

GCN:'What other changes have been made?

PARKER: HUD's IT shop reorganized along customer service and program lines instead of the traditional systems over here and applications over there and maintenance over there. Instead of just the typical breakdown, we reorganized to be more customer-focused and align ourselves with the programs.

GCN:'Did you accomplish what you wanted to in your first year?

PARKER: Yes, I did, but after I got here I realized what that really meant. I learned that there wasn't an office of the CIO. I didn't know that coming in. So I had to rethink and shift my priorities to do some very basic things first.

The first thing was to have the CIO recognized as a senior executive for IT and to then create an office of the CIO, which we eventually did get done. Then, I had to hire a staff for that office and develop a number of the initiatives that I spoke of earlier to meet the IT Management Reform Act. All of those things I did accomplish the first year.

GCN:'What are some of HUD's strong and weak points in its systems?

PARKER: HUD runs very large, very complex major systems. And those systems run very, very well. HUD's strength is its ability to maintain and support the programs that are running. HUD has done a tremendous job in the development area in regard to year 2000. But there are some development issues that have not been so good.

There are some replacements of some systems, right now, that we are going through because the previous systems weren't doing what was expected of them. HUD does a great job of managing the systems that are in place, and it has done a real good job recently of some of the new systems coming up.

GCN:'Could you be more specific?

PARKER: Congress and the Office of Management and Budget had some major concerns about HUD's systems. Those concerns lie primarily in security and project management, being able to develop a system in a timely manner and being able to stay within budget and have a systems do what is expected. Basically, there are capital planning and IT investment issues.

When we looked at some of the General Accounting Office reports as well as some of the issues that have been spelled out in other reports on HUD IT systems, it always seemed to lump back into one of those two categories: security or IT investment and project management. Those are the weaknesses.

We have addressed the investment strategies issue. We have an IT investment process in place that puts us back on track for ensuring that systems are developed within budget and on schedule. The security issue we continue to work on.

GCN:'How confident are you that you won't have any surprises once the clock turns to midnight on New Year's Eve?

PARKER: I am 100 percent confident that HUD's systems are going to work. I am not as confident that our business partners' systems are going to work. HUD is completely finished. We are doing end-to-end testing now with some of our major business partners, and those tests are going very, very well.

But we have some concerns that some of our smaller business partners may not be as ready as they need to be for 2000. What we have done is a big outreach program to make sure that they know what they have to do and how they have to do it.

GCN:'Did you learn any lessons from your year 2000 preparations?

PARKER: I wouldn't call them lessons, but Y2K helped us. I'm not just talking about HUD but the entire industry. Many people had to do stringent inventory accounting of the systems they actually had'what was on those systems, what was running on those systems, what levels and releases of software, and all those kinds of things. I think that is something that is a huge benefit to everyone.

Another huge benefit is the contingency planning we have had to do. Of course, we all do backup planning and recovery planning as a way of life in IT. But I don't think without Y2K that many organizations would have gone to the extent of asking what happens and what does it affect and how will the business truly operate in the event of a major disaster.

Outside of taking the stuff somewhere else to run it, what happens if you have to fall back to a manual process? What happens if you fix these systems, but the calculations aren't happening correctly and the checks aren't printing right?

The continuity and contingency planning that we all had to put in place for Y2K are plans that we will continue to do forever.

We have been able to marry programs and IT in this effort. I think the program offices have learned that everything that has to do with a computer is not just a technology problem. Y2K is not a technology problem, but a management problem. In the beginning many people didn't understand that.

GCN:'What is next on HUD's systems agenda?

PARKER: We have a major data warehousing initiative going on at HUD. It is an enterprisewide data warehouse, which includes an enterprise information system, but Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo calls it an empowerment information system.

It's exciting because I know how hard it has been in many agencies to sell the whole concept of data warehousing. We are trying to create one at HUD. The secretary's major thrust has been to bring all of HUD together and, as a result, give much better service to our customers. What we had were all these different stovepipe systems where you could go for information. Often, one office doesn't know what another office is doing.

It takes 20 people to go out into the community and address one problem because someone from each programs has to be represented. The secretary has tackled that huge issue for HUD. Data warehousing is one of the things we're using to do that.

We are looking at assembling all the information needed by people across HUD and across the community and moving it into the data warehouse. Users would then have access to the information they need.

What's more

  • Family: Husband, a daughter, a son and two grandchildren
  • Interests: Traveling, online shopping
  • Favorite Web site:
  • Most fun job: 'IBM marketing training I did in Dallas. I trained new IBM employees.'
  • Best place lived: Dallas
  • Worst place lived: Columbus, Ohio


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