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Expectations High as the Strategic Role of the CIO Expands

As the role of the CIO expands with the enactment of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), expectations are high that Chief Information Officers (CIOs) will deliver more innovation, better performance and more return on investment while protecting against the rising number of sophisticated cyber threats, according to the 25th Anniversary of the federal government CIO community survey, sponsored and led by the Professional Services Council (PSC) and Grant Thornton LLP.

The survey report, Expanding the Role of the CIO: Integrating Mission, Innovation, Technology, Services and People, provides a number of insights into the expanding role of the CIO in the wake of new security requirements, such as FITARA.

“The spotlight on CIOs continues to increase with the enactment of FITARA, and expectations are high for information professionals to leverage technology to deliver effective mission results,” said Dave Wennergren, PSC senior vice president for technology. “Opportunities abound if we can remove some of the current barriers that slow down the adoption of new ideas and technologies.”

Enacted on December 19, 2014, FITARA requires the heads of federal agencies ensure that their respective CIOs have a significant role in information technology (IT) decisions. FITARA has significantly expanded the role of the CIO so that they can be more effective.

One CIO commented, “We are hopeful FITARA will foster more collaborative discussion to improve communication and consensus on IT investments across the C-suite.” Another said FITARA “… started the right conversations. It will assist with providing more visibility into what is being bought. Policy changes have helped raise acquisition thresholds so more companies are able to be used in a more streamlined fashion.”

With the significant expansion of their roles in IT decision-making, CIOs are being called on to find innovative ways to use technology to perform operations faster and more effectively. However, they face a number of obstacles.

In addition to working with tight budgets and limited resources, CIOs face the challenge of grappling with the increasing number of damaging, high profile data breaches. The last year has seen a number of these incidents, from Sony Pictures to health insurer Anthem to the recent breach on the Office of Personnel Management that resulted in the compromised information of 4 million sensitive federal employee records.

In the wake of these attacks, CIOs believe cybersecurity is a top concern. In fact, 28 percent of respondents noted a 51-100 percent increase in cyber threats to their respective organization in the past year. However, while the interviewed CIOs believe they have made progress in preventing and responding to cyber attacks, they still have a long way to go.

In response, the interviewed CIOs indicated they are looking to the cloud and modular development to help them make innovation a reality across the enterprise. By leveraging cloud, CIOs believe they can reduce costs and improve efficiency.

One CIO said, “We have used cloud to reduce our lifecycle development costs by 90 percent and bring applications to market in 70 percent less time.” Another CIO commented, “Our move to cloud email has given our 17,000 staff back two hours per month where they don’t need to manage their email boxes and given them 400 times more storage than before.”

However, while all survey participants state that their agency has adopted or is planning to adopt a cloud-based solution, only 8 percent are where they want to be.

In 2011, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued the “Cloud First policy” to help government agencies transition to cloud computing. The Federal Cloud Computing Strategy identified nearly $20 billion in potential savings—nearly one quarter of the approximate $80 billion the US government spends on IT annually—by migrating to the cloud.

To accelerate the shift to cloud computing, OMB required agencies to identify, plan and fully migrate three services to a cloud solution by June 2012. OMB required federal agencies to immediately shift to a “Cloud First” policy by implementing cloud-based solutions whenever a secure, reliable and cost-effective cloud option exists.

Despite initiatives like Cloud First, many agencies have been slow to adopt cloud and have only tackled the low-hanging fruit. One CIO said, “We’ve tackled the easy stuff, moving email and web sites to the cloud. Now, we are looking at how we can use a more Agile set of tools for application development in the cloud.”

The surveyed CIOs believe that moving to cloud-based DevOps, a software engineering innovation that leverages a combination of complex delivery experience and proprietary tools, can improve speed of delivery and collaboration, and help automate processes like testing and verification, releases, and infrastructure updates.

Homeland Security Today previously reported that this belief is confirmed by a recent study conducted by MeriTalk, a public-private partnership focused on improving the outcomes of government IT. According to the study, The Agile Advantage: Can DevOps Move Cloud to the Fast Lane?, underwritten by Accenture Federal Services, approximately two-thirds of respondents say DevOps will help agencies move to the cloud faster.

“A DevOps model brings software engineering, quality assurance, and IT operations together as an integrated team,” said Accenture Federal Services’ Chief Technology Officer Tim Hoechst. “Federal agencies can start up new projects more quickly, improve resource utilization, and reduce downtime – ultimately driving the innovation needed for real change.”

Related to cybersecurity, the survey also revealed the need for CIOs to rebuild their talent base, with 63 percent of respondents saying their agencies were “not at all” or “insufficiently” equipped to support talent development needs.

CIOs face stiff competition for IT talent. Only 10 percent of the federal workforce is under 30 compared to 25 percent of private-sector employees. Moreover, also contributing to the federal skills gap are employees who do not take advantage of training, emphasizing the need for a plan to facilitate knowledge transfer and retention in the current workforce.

The report indicates that “CIOs hope that by adopting newer technologies this will help attract fresh, forward-thinking candidates who can begin specializing in areas such as: applications, infrastructure, cybersecurity, systems engineering and project management.” Another major issue is retirement.

The Government Accountability Office predicted over a third of the federal workforce will be retirement-eligible by September 2017, and 62 percent of retired federal employees said they did not train a new employee before their retirement, according to a Federal News Radio survey.

“Another challenge we face is retirement. Unfortunately, you can’t predict when someone is going to retire,” said one of the interviewed CIOs. “An agency needs to have an orderly transfer of knowledge. If you have a pipeline of talent, you should constantly be growing that talent so that if someone does retire, they can be easily replaced.”

Although CIOs face a number of challenges in the federal IT sphere as their roles expand, the expanding role of the CIO has positioned these leaders to drive federal agency IT into a “more responsive, nimble and cost-effective” future.

"When Grant Thornton started surveying federal CIOs 25 years ago, few envisioned the pace and scale of technology change and the impact it would have on the CIO,” said George DelPrete II, principal with Grant Thornton LLP and leader of its Information Technology Service line. “Today’s CIO needs to be a technologist, an innovator, an architect, a cybersecurity specialist, and mission enabler who can deliver technology safely and cost effectively.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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