Online Extra: Challenges ahead for CIOs

As CIOs play a larger role in their agency's business decisions, the challenges they face are becoming more than technological.

Senior IT managers said funding programs, hiring and retaining workers and IT capital planning and investment strategies are three of the top challenges they must overcome.

'Finance, business and technology are now part of the CIO's world,' said Mark Forman, former Office of Management and Budget e-government and IT administrator. 'Being able to talk about these three needs is a clear sign the CIO role in the federal government is maturing.'

'The focal point of managing IT is changing,' said Scott Hastings, CIO of U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system at the Homeland Security Department. 'It is moving toward a business model.'

A recent survey of 700 federal IT managers by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management supports the observations of Hastings, who also is the president of AFFIRM, and Forman, now the executive vice president of Cassatt Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif.

Civilian, Defense Department and intelligence CIOs and other IT managers ranked their top challenges and most critical technologies in the eighth annual Top 10 Federal CIO Challenges Survey. These feds said obtaining adequate funding for IT projects, and hiring and retaining skilled workers were the two biggest challenges they faced in 2003.

Implementing an enterprise architecture, IT capital planning and investment management procedures, and unifying disparate systems across similar business lines rounded out the top five challenges.

'The survey provides a tremendous amount of insight into where the federal government needs to go in terms of technology and where agencies need to focus their energies,' Forman said. 'When I was at OMB, we worked a lot in getting CIOs involved in the overall agency management reform agenda, and that is indeed occurring in most agencies.'

Hastings also said agencies must hire qualified IT workers more quickly to address the growing need as older workers leave federal service. He said broadening the direct-hire authority the Office of Personnel Management gave to agencies to hire IT security experts would be a huge step in the right direction.

Fifty IT executives said Internet, intranet or Web applications were the most critical technology for them, edging out security infrastructure by one vote. Data mining, security applications and knowledge management rounded out the top five.
'There is more focus on the link we are trying to make between the back end and the customer-facing front end,' Hastings said.

AFFIRM added five questions to this year's survey to judge the impact of the President's Management Agenda for the second consecutive year.

Forty-seven respondents said the PMA has increased management focus on IT, while 27 said it provides an opportunity to rethink strategic priorities. Most IT executives-75 percent-said they expect the administration's 25 e-government initiatives to be successful or somewhat successful, up from 57 percent in 2002.

'This shows that people understand that collaboration, leveraging technology and working together makes sense and works,' Forman said. 'This shows a culture shift has occurred.'

Program management remains the area in which there is the greatest lack of skills among federal IT workers, the survey found, with project and budget planning, project controls, security and enterprise architecture close behind.

Agencies are feeling an impact from homeland security and cybersecurity initiatives, respondents said.

Thirty-three percent of IT managers, up from one-quarter last year, said homeland security initiatives have increased their budgets. A strong majority, 74 percent, said their IT infrastructures are in better shape, up 8 percent from 2002.

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