Editorial

Spelling out a job

Thomas R. Temin

CIO. When this job title was invented by industry years ago, the joke was that the acronym stood for 'career is over.' Like government, private industry regularly had trouble deploying large-scale information systems efficiently and in useful support of company business objectives. Chief information officers often became scapegoats for failed projects.

Three years have passed since the enactment of the legal requirement for federal departments to have CIOs. Nowadays, few consider the job a career-ender. In fact, several CIO slots are occupied by people with successful track records in the private sector who actively sought the job. And the CIO Council is credited with many promising initiatives on issues ranging from career development to a governmentwide grants system.

Yet it is still debatable how effective CIOs have been. This isn't because CIOs are incompetent, but because too often agency leaders have failed to include their CIOs at the highest levels. In such cases, CIOs haven't received their proverbial seats at the table. Turnover has been high.

One career civil servant said privately that unless a CIO has been appointed politically, the job simply carries too little weight to throw against the objectives of the Information Technology Management Reform Act. No doubt it varies from department to department, but that perception isn't surprising, just disappointing.

Now a few agencies, like a few corporations, are inventing a position known as chief knowledge officer, or CKO [GCN, Nov. 8, Page 1]. CIOs at least have the girding of a law that received bipartisan support. The idea of a CKO seems based on little more than the concept of knowledge management. Will the acronym CKO end up meaning career knockout?

For the sake of Shereen Remez at the General Services Administration, and all the other able and well-intentioned pioneer CKOs, I hope not. But if only political appointees have real clout in a mandated position such as CIO, what hope is there for CKOs'especially as the politicos start heading for the doors in anticipation of the Clinton administration's sunset?

Worthy as the concept of CKO may be, anyone accepting such a job should PWC'proceed with caution.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

Internet: editor@gcn.com

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