CIOs must preach culture change

Treasury Department CIO Drew Ladner says a CIO and an agency's offices must work together.

J. Adam Fenster

As CIOs move to the boardroom from the back office, many are finding they must act as evangelists rather than technologists.

IT managers are realizing they must get employees to think differently about e-government and how it can change the way agencies fulfill their missions. CIOs face many challenges, but while finding technology that accomplishes a mission is no longer a huge problem, implementing it in the face of resistance throughout an agency can be.

Mark Forman, who just departed as the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for E-Government and IT, said the e-government revolution is as much about culture change as about technology and business process management.

And the culture change opens a new door of responsibility for federal IT managers.

David Wennergren, the Navy's systems chief, said CIOs are responsible for seeing that agencies change the way they conduct business.

'We are having to get people to think outside their normal flow of command,' Wennergren said. 'We need to get people to think about the enterprise. That is the crux of what CIOs are doing now.'

Wennergren, who spoke at a recent discussion sponsored by the Bethesda chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, said there are two kinds of change: revolutionary and evolutionary.

Revolutionary change, he said, requires wholesale transformation across an entire agency, such as the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet project, through which the Navy is updating its entire IT infrastructure.

Evolutionary change is a slower kind that calls for agencies to adopt a standard approach of transforming how employees do their work, he said.


Another speaker, Treasury Department CIO Drew Ladner, said a CIO and an agency's offices must work together over time to implement change. He said CIOs must show:
  • Authenticity by acting as an ombudsman for the offices

  • Credibility by delivering on promises

  • Accountability by holding vendors and offices to performance goals.

Daniel Matthews, the Transportation Department CIO, said he encourages DOT's bureaus to modify their business practices. He also said he must stand up to the criticism that comes with altering the status quo.

'There was a time when the CIO was lead techie, but today CIOs must have a business perspective of what the agency is trying to do,' he said. 'The business perspective is what needs to be addressed' by the CIO.

Wennergren said change management is easier when projects achieve success quickly and when there is money to get the project off the ground. It doesn't take much'as little as $100,000, he said. Giving workers information about change also eases the process by helping to allay their fears, he said.

Wennergren said e-business projects should be done within 100 days. Quick success feeds enthusiasm and helps employees see the benefits of the new system.

He said focusing on a quick turnaround is a different approach than in the past, when money was spent on large, cumbersome systems that were never completed.

'We are moving away from the big legacy systems to this idea of content available by the Web or by the enterprise portal wherever you are,' he said.

Sometimes a huge project that transforms an agency, such as NMCI, helps employees stomach change more easily because it can pave the way for new technologies, Wennergren said.

'It takes a leap of faith to initiate change,' he said. 'You have to have a strategy to engage grassroots support and senior leadership commitment, and then you have to compress the middle because that is where most of the resistance lies.'

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