IT Management 101

Thomas R. Temin

Commercial computers date back to just after World War II. Yet job titles such as chief technology officer and CIO have only recently entered the management vocabulary.

Even so, IT has always been as much a management concern as a technical one. Now, IT is inseparable from mission delivery. One example: Early in the Bush administration, the tax cut law required the IRS to mail millions of refund checks on a tight deadline. The agency could not have completed such a task accurately and on time without heavy use of the databases and systems infrastructures of three departments.

Nowadays, government's executive managers, whether career or appointed officials, simply must possess the skills to manage the discipline of IT. Bad things happen otherwise.

For instance, at a news conference during the scandals surrounding Wen Ho Lee and lost hard drives, former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson was asked what steps were being taken to improve data security at the Energy Department. His reply'and I'm paraphrasing'was, 'Here's my computer guy. He'll tell you.' It sounded as though IT management was too far down the priority scale to be of concern to a cabinet secretary.

Well, it isn't. And some secretaries and assistant secretaries understand that, as do some members of Congress and high-ranking committee staff members.

To help government managers, GCN with this issue launches a new special section, GCN Management, which begins on Page 27. Written primarily by GCN staff members, GCN Management will appear six times this year. Each installment will explore the challenges of managing IT and applying it to mission delivery in government.

We chose Blueprint for Modernization as our premiere theme because so many agencies have infrastructures too old or fractured to support e-government initiatives. Government can't claim a great record in pulling off large modernizing efforts. When you scratch the surface, you'll find the problems are nearly never technological but nearly always managerial. Government can do better.

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