Feds Questioning the Value of IT?

Ann All

Following up on our post from yesterday about the decisions of two British retailers to eliminate CIO positions at their companies, we ran across an item on Government Executive.com that relates the U.S. Department of Agriculture's appointment of its CFO to serve double duty as the agency's CIO.


This is a break from tradition for the USDA, which has had a dedicated CIO since at least 2000, notes the blog post. Part of the issue is that there are just 18 months remaining in President Bush's term, which makes it difficult to fill any executive slots at federal agencies.


But the post strikes a pessimistic tone, noting that the message conveyed by the USDA appointment is: "We don't need a full-time CIO because IT doesn't matter."


Such moves mean that government agencies won't employ IT as a strategic tool to improve services, opines blogger Allan Holmes. Making the problem worse: predicted slow growth in federal IT spending over the next two years.


The government's tech track record is spotty, which led the Bush administration to require federal agencies to make a better effort to justify their IT spending.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 8, 2007 4:25 PM Marcio Marcio  says:
I don't believe that such decisions have anything to do with IT not mattering but rather about the growing trend to directly align IT with the business. Many organizations now employ large number of Project Managers (PMO) that report both to the CIO and CFO. The objective is to ensure that IT projects are properly evaluated from a financial perspective (i.e., return on investment). These organizations are simply trying out a different approach to this objective.The point of this article should be about focusing IT projects on what will make the business more profitable/productive instead of IT projects for the sake of technology or the latest thing. CIOs that act as businesspeople, instead of technologists, have nothing to worry about in terms of career longevity. Reply
Aug 8, 2007 5:20 PM Wolfgang Schimeck Wolfgang Schimeck  says:
Three instances out of the millions of CIOs out there hardly constitute a trend, especially considering the political considerations you mentioned with regard to the Department of Agriculture.There may be a broader trend at work with regard to the role of the CIO: the increasing irrelevance of the formal IT structure. In many ways, the current IT landscape resembles the situation in the early 1980s, when mainframe-based IT shops ruled the roost. The advent of the personal computer turned everything upside down and fostered an unprecedented era of change and innovation. Over time, however, the forces of inertia and stagnation have taken over and religions like ITIL, Six-Sigma, COBIT and their ilk have squeezed the creative juices out of IT, leaving the field to technocrats who are no more likely to rejuvenate their organizations than their predecessors a generation ago.This isn't meant to be a diatribe against running a well-organized IT shop, but the IT industry seems to operate on a spring-loaded pendulum which never seems to find the balance between near-anarchy or stultifying regimentation. Much of the drivel about aligning IT with the business comes from consulting firms whose income depends on creating an inferiority complex in their clientele. Most non-IT business executives in large firms are finding it next to impossible to cope with the rapid pace of change in their environment, so expecting IT to align with a constantly-shifting target is a forlorn hope.I suspect that sometime in the next decade or so, another paradigm shift will take place which will fire the pendulum in the opposite direction. Whether this will be caused by the expectations of a tech-savvy generation of employees, by the successor to the current internet, or by some combination of factors we can't discern remains to be seen. In the meantime, all of us in IT (CIOs included) should do some serious thinking about what attracted us to the field in the first place and decide whether the restrictive environments in which so many of us toil bears any resemblance to the role we had envisioned. Reply
Aug 9, 2007 9:30 AM Akbar Ashraf Akbar Ashraf  says:
Well. Its interesting to know that USDA eliminated CIO's post and handed over the responsibility to CFO. This would be a killing thing for the department itself because finance people more or less try to use IT for their own interest most of the times. I know there are companies who couldn't use IT as the profitibility tool just because there was no dedicated full time IT head. IT is a full time job and it just cannot perform well under CFOs. Reply
Aug 9, 2007 4:15 PM Joseph A. Montione Joseph A. Montione  says:
Risk; Reward, and the security question;How much are you willing to save now to release your private data tomorrow?Finance will calculate a good return on investment (ROI) by getting rid of the CTO (Chief Technology Officer)!?With the recent wave of eCrime, most conservative business executives realize the importance of a CIO type. After all, who wants to be responsible for a couple hundred thousand social security numbers and the profiles of all of the USDAs employees? It is only a matter of time until efficiency turns to trouble. Not to mention the gobbly-goop of managing technology staff.Most good technology resources fix problems and implement good solutions. The result is finance then calculates, logically, the low ROI for that function, usually to make up for some other Business Units overspending. Fix it and forget it. Sounds like money well saved?The problem is that technology, like the clock does not stop and get comfortable. By-By private information, hello privacy law suit!Listen, trust the tone of the major conservative banks in the world! They keep your money safe. My last bank had one CIO and TWO CTOs, keeping your eBanking safe!Lets let finance get rid of the CIO and see what happens: It would go like this:You walk up to the ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) to withdrawal money:Im sorry our finance department has calculated that it is not the best time for you to spend your money. Please come back when it is less profitable to keep your money in the bank!Ya that makes sense in the short run also.Joseph A. MontioneGTOpenDatabase L.L.C.: FounderIT Solutions Provider / Project Manager Reply
Aug 9, 2007 4:25 PM Neville Suzman Neville Suzman  says:
framework needs to be established to provide that agilityWith the pressure to maximize on investments and ensure the highest return, and meet future business needs, companies are shifting their focus on how they utilize IT. This refocus includes:Focusing on driving down costs to meet lower budgetsWhile in today?s economic climate driving down costs involves limiting IT expenditures, it increasingly involves looking at the existing IT infrastructure and determining how it can be leveraged to offset limitations in making future IT purchases. Centralizing IT infrastructuresWe have recently witnessed a shift in IT environments away from legacy based centralized mainframes to support a geographically distributed world. Now, in an effort to gain better control over IT budgets and operations while organizing around the arrival of advanced technologies, networks, and systems, companies are once again shifting back to a centralized model of service delivery. Leveraging infrastructure to support business processes.The need to find new sources of revenue is pushing companies to focus on leveraging IT to support business processes and ensure that business processes are integrated more seamlessly. Maximizing utilization of IT infrastructureAs part of centralizing IT infrastructures, companies are looking to maximize the utilization rates of these environments, whether servers, storage, or applications. Shifting to leverage utility based on-demand servicesMany firms are beginning to examine the potential of leveraging IT as part of a set of utility based capabilities and services, similar to energy and communications. Debate?On one end of the governance spectrum (top down), you can manage to control IT spend by delivering a centrally architected set of solutions, probably on platforms (like SAP, ORACLE,) and without bringing SOA discussion into the picture, force the businesses process change to these ?out-of-the-box? solutions & processes. Your IT costs can come under control, but your business change costs can sky rocket, and you may even forget about the IT department positioning as a strategic partner for the business. On the other end (bottom up), you can empower the business by allowing the business to buy any type of solution. Business intelligence suffers and the overall cost of IT grows uncontrollably. HOW DE PROVIDE FOR BUSINESS AGILITY?Do we work towards a blended approach? and Allow for the freedom of projects that bring efficiencies to the business. The blended approach (Middle out) where the central group provides all key standards, communication mechanisms, monitoring infrastructure, and encourages teams to use it to build around services that can be shared. Reply
Aug 13, 2007 4:50 PM The Compliance and Security Connection The Compliance and Security Connection  says:
The Expendable CIO Ann All, in her IT Business Edge blog, reported a couple of days ago that British department store House of Fraser has no plans to replace its recently retired IT director. John Lewis, another British retail chain, the director of Reply

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