Making an impact as a new CIO

CIOs must hit the ground running, identifying cost-effective projects that will have a lasting impact and building the relationships that will position them for success.

As new CIOs step into roles at agencies across government, IT modernization is experiencing a surge in attention. This focus is backed by funding through the American Rescue Plan, which dedicates close to $2 billion for cybersecurity and technology improvements, including $1 billion for the Technology Modernization Fund. 

With renewed efforts to strengthen cybersecurity and IT modernization, CIOs and IT leaders at all levels of government must prepare to make an impact. However, navigating where to start as an incoming CIO can be overwhelming. But by identifying short-term, high-impact projects, understanding the budget cycle and building partnerships with procurement teams, newly appointed IT leaders can quickly make a lasting impact.

Identify low-hanging fruit ripe for change

The average federal CIO job lasts 20 months. That’s not much time to make an impact, so it’s critical new leaders have a plan for IT innovations that will make a mark -- and launch quickly.

Many CIOs come into the government energized, but are immediately challenged with navigating agency dynamics and taking on complex, long-term projects. As they consider their responsibilities and opportunities, it’s important for CIOs to pick high-impact projects that can be accomplished in manageable pieces.

This can be as simple as implementing a tool like a chatbot, a basic solution that notably increases government engagement with citizens, even when agency resources are limited. Chatbots have served as a key tool for pandemic response, enabling agencies and citizens to interact seamlessly while physical resources were strained during the transition to remote work. 

Onboarding staff also allows new IT leaders to make a major difference. The altered work environment resulting from the pandemic combined with personnel changes that accompany an incoming administration make onboarding increasingly complex -- and necessary. 

A streamlined experience for new workers requires pulling data from varied sources, sometimes including legacy sites, into one easy-to-use platform. Integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) solutions aggregate data from disparate silos and create an experience that allows new employees to easily access the information they need during their first weeks on the job.

Take charge of the budget cycle

Understanding the budget cycle that a CIO is inheriting and figuring out where an agency is in that cycle is critical for completing projects. This should be among a CIO’s first steps, as this knowledge provides a baseline for strategy and success.

Once leaders can get their hands around current investments and resources, one of the fastest ways to find funding for innovation is to reduce or eliminate spending on costly legacy systems. Legacy IT requires high maintenance and licensing spend, as well as specialized staff with hard-to-find skills. IT leaders should systematically reduce the dependency on these antiquated solutions and cut technical debt whenever possible to get modernization rolling.

Each organizations’ modernization journey will be different, as size, complexity and cost factors vary across the government. It is also equally important to consider the cultural and human capital factors that go into planning a modernization program. For example, one organization may look to lift and shift key legacy technologies from a mainframe due to the retirement of technical staff with key skills. Others may decide to look at modernizing smaller legacy systems that will enable a key digital service. A modernization journey will not be the same for any two organizations. CIOs must consider complexity, demand, cost, customers and internal culture.

Build a partnership with procurement systems

Finally, CIOs achieve the most when they work hand-in-hand with their procurement team. IT and acquisition teams often seem to speak different languages, so translating modernization efforts into cost savings and other tangible impacts make it easier to work together and accomplish more.

If CIOs focus on building partnerships with their procurement teams, they can break down needs and more effectively drive IT progress. One simple way to do this is to select vendors with contracts already in place. Whether it’s specific contract with the government or a consortium contract covering multiple agencies, leveraging an existing contract will streamline the procurement process.

Another way CIOs can support the procurement process is to ensure that the vendors they select meet the agency’s cybersecurity requirements. This is especially true as governments begin transitioning to multicloud environments. By leveraging tools such as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program and StateRAMP, CIOs and procurement officers can be sure that the vendor being considered will meet the security requirements defined by the chief information security officers. This can accelerate the selection and contracting process by ensuring that the CIO, CISO and procurement teams are in sync.

CIOs must hit the ground running, identifying cost-effective projects that will have a lasting impact and building the relationships that will position them for success. By selecting and implementing suitable technology to streamline internal operations, CIOs can reap the benefits of new projects and take government IT to the next level. In this time of change, there’s great opportunity to make a lasting impact. 

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