CIOs share their true confessions

CIOs share their true confessions


NEWPORT, R.I.'To succeed, a chief information officer must have vision, collaboration skills, flexibility, contacts, respect and even a bit of humor.

That's what one CIO and two CIO staff members revealed on the 'CIO True Confessions' panel at the National High-Performance Computing and Communications Council's annual conference here in March.

Crucial to such a position is the ability to project a vision, said Dana K. 'Deke' Smith, assistant to the CIO of the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md.

Most problems that CIOs encounter are not technological but rather interpersonal, Smith said. CIOs need to excel at promoting a better way of doing business.

Roger Baker

Ninety percent of the job involves acting as a change agent, said Alex Bennet, the Navy's deputy CIO for enterprise integration.

To become a change agent, a CIO must have top management support, Commerce Department CIO Roger Baker said.

Depending on the agency, a CIO might act as chief information assurance officer or might take the lead in knowledge management, data management improvement or Extensible Markup Language conversion, Bennet said.

At many agencies the CIO and the chief technology officer are one and the same, said Baker, who is leaving Commerce.

Role playing

In the Navy, however, the CTO's job is definitely different from the CIO's, Bennet said. One of the Navy's three deputy CIOs plays the role of chief technology officer for architecture and standards.

When the Navy first started its smart card push [GCN, Oct. 25, 1999, Page 29], the idea was to put everything on one chip, 'never mind that it had only 20M,' she said. That had to change so that smart cards could facilitate access to greater stores of information on networks.

'The higher up you get in a governmental organization, the less control you have,' Bennet said. 'You've got to work in teams.'

Asked what the panelists didn't expect when they stepped into their jobs, Baker said his biggest surprise was that high-level officials don't always do what they promise.

'You push a button, go on about six months and find out nothing happened when you pushed the button,' Baker said.

Bennet recalled a time when the Navy had gone through three CIOs in 18 months.

'We weren't in good shape for the year 2000, so there was a bit of a panic,' she said. 'The most surprising thing I discovered was the high amount of social capital.' The services have greater camaraderie than the civilian side, she said.
Baker said the nation often relies on Commerce systems in unusual ways. For instance, the Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking program has rescued more than 4,000 Americans over the last three decades, he said.


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