Way over yonder in CIO Insight magazine, Eric Lundquist says we should have a national chief information officer (CIO), not a national CTO.
Maybe I’m dense, but I’ve never fully understood the difference. A CIO is supposedly focused on applications, or, in Lundquist’s words, “business first and technology second.” Whereas a CTO would be, by implication, a business-be-damned technology zealot of the first order.
Or maybe I’m exaggerating slightly. But I’ve met quite a few CTOs in my life and times, and I still haven’t met an irresponsible bit-hugging code-cutting wire-pulling maniac among them. Which is not to say that there aren’t incompetent twits in this line of work, as in all walks of life. But, if there is a practical distinction between CIO and CTO, it isn’t usually in their relative business-savvy. It’s usually that the former is better at working with stakeholders, gaining buy-in, and nailing down the budget, whereas the latter is adept at delivering on any commitments that the former has made. The best C-level tech execs combine both skill sets, or focus on CIO responsibilities and know enough to delegate the CTO responsibilities to the right person. Whoever fulfills these roles, they, in Lundquist’s words, should certainly “know how to get things done.”
Where a national CTO/CIO is concerned, the big issue is what “thing” we the people want them to get done. As I stated in the past few posts, it’s anybody’s guess what specific responsibilities President-elect Obama would invest in any future national CTO that Congress may or may not authorize him to appoint. In Lundquist’s article, I’m glad he mentioned the heretofore fruitless federal effort to focus cybersecurity policy in a single position. “How many cybersecurity czars,” says Lundquist, “have we gone through since 9/11? I count at least three (Amit Yoran, Howard Schmidt, Greg Garcia and I’m sure there have been more) along with long gaps between selections. I think what happened was in the panic to develop national security there was an unwillingness to admit that a national security plan could take years and years to develop as competing agencies, privacy concerns and security processes needed to be considered. A national CTO could face the same difficulties.”
That last sentence is the understatement of the year. You think giving one person responsibility for all federal cybersecurity policy was a ticket to failure? Well, just imagine the insanely overflowing inbox—-cybersecurity and much much more--that will greet the person who tries to take on President Obama’s IT policy agenda, per the all-encompassing sci-tech position paper that his campaign published months ago.
If a federal CTO/CIO does nothing else, they should at least focus on the same core agenda as their counterparts in the private sector: leveraging information assets to improve organizational efficiency, effectiveness, and agility. In other words, the whole business transformation and optimization agenda—where the business we’re speaking of is the “people’s business.” Maybe what we need is a national Chief Transformation Officer.
Which is why I initially thought Al Gore would be a good candidate for the national CTO job—never mind that he would be an even better candidate for Secretary of State. When Gore was Vice President, he headed a “Reinventing Government” effort—essentially, a thankless, possibly futile, effort to prod government agencies to work both smarter and harder. Not that I have anything against government employees, but most of them work for what are essentially monopolies, and many of them have secure, unionized jobs. Good luck asking them to transform themselves when they have absolutely no career-saving need to do so.
If the incoming Democratic administration attempts to revive the “Reinventing Government” initiative, whoever leads it will need to consider the transformative power of the government’s vast IT assets. Will that leader be the presumed national CTO? Will it be Vice President Biden? Should it be?
If we’re going to give someone the thankless job of national CTO, why not hand it to the second-in-command, whose position was once described as not being worth a “pitcher of warm spit.”