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Commentary: U.S. information chief should be independent agent

A federal chief information officer independent of the Office of Management and Budget and possibly at the Cabinet level could set overall government policy for information use, security and other issues.

A federal government chief information officer independent of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and possibly at the Cabinet level could set overall government policy for information use and security, arbitrate interagency IT issues and promote common IT practices, and most of all provide leadership for the various government IT organizations.

In a multinational company made up of many divergent business groups, the CIO's role is usually to set overall policy rather than run day-to-day operations. The CIO often "owns" the corporate infrastructure and sometimes application development--although that responsibility often belongs to individual lines of business.

See news story:
Washington debates need for technology policy chief

A corporate CIO is also responsible for raising the overall perception of the competency of the IT organization and the perception of its importance for the success of the corporation as a whole and its various business units. If corporate and line-of-business management do not understand how IT can contribute to business success and do not have confidence that their internal IT group can do the job, the company is at risk of stagnation in the increasingly information-driven business environment.

In the federal government, which is equally information-driven, the CIO could serve similar functions, working with the heads of major government agencies and departments.

Within corporations, the CIO is responsible for developing an IT infrastructure that can support the business strategy--a challenging task in this era of extremely rapid market changes and ephemeral business opportunities. A government CIO could serve a similar vital purpose by aligning overall IT policy with government policy. For instance, a federal CIO could set policy defining the relative importance of information privacy, security, and reuse, assuring the American public that its government has policies in place to protect their private health, financial, and personal information from improper use.

The CIO could articulate the operational divisions needed to protect that privacy and determine where those concerns take precedence over the demands of efficiency and cost-savings.

A federal CIO should set overall governmental information policy and translate that into IT operational methodology. By bringing the various departments and agencies together on standards, the CIO would facilitate the federal government providing information, services, and other capabilities to citizens via unified portal approaches.

The government's CIO should also be responsible for establishing the government's IT security policy and should raise awareness of the possible outcome of new technologies on government operations and on privacy and security concerns. The CIO could oversee the operational efficiency of the various governmental IT operating organizations at a high level. Additional CIO responsibilities could include setting policy concerning using internal sources vs. outsourcing, and keeping the president and his closest advisers informed on all of these increasingly vital issues.

Most of all, a federal CIO could provide overall leadership and direction for all the governmental IT organizations. This would ensure that they are articulating the same basic goals and approaches and not working at cross-purposes.

Because these CIO roles are basically strategic and leadership-oriented, rather than operational, META Group believes that the federal CIO should be independent and ranked above the OMB, which has oversight into government operations. The CIO should probably be a Cabinet position, which would be in keeping with the vital role that information technology is playing and will continue to play in every aspect of our lives, from government to business to entertainment.

Meta Group analysts Peter Burris, William Zachmann, and John Goggin contributed to this article. Entire contents, Copyright © 2000 Meta Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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