Reprinted with permission from the February 2005 issue of Public CIO.

CIOs have been unfairly branded technology geeks -- all too willing to believe the solution to what ails government today is another server box, blade or tablet PC loaded with the latest and greatest software. It's not true, of course. Just about every CIO I've ever interviewed knows technology is only about 20 percent of the equation, with people and their organizational structures and processes making up the vast majority of what drives the public sector today.

But there's no question that in business and government, there has been a disconnect between what technology can do and what it can deliver, namely a service.

Ken Wendle of HP likens IT departments within organizations to restaurants without menus. One day, you go in for a meal and there's plenty of steak; the next day, it's all seafood. And price, quality and quantity keep changing. As a diner, that would drive you crazy, especially if there's only one restaurant in town.

That's the complaint agencies have long voiced about their IT departments, and so have auditors and CFOs. As a result, CIOs are getting pummeled for the perception -- right or wrong -- that they can't govern IT.

But the situation is beginning to change. CIOs are starting to embrace IT governance in a methodical way, using frameworks that provide processes to reduce the uncertainty surrounding IT so the right decisions can be made, and more importantly, technology's infrastructure can be linked to the enterprise's business aspects.

Interestingly, one of the fastest growing aspects of governance is something called the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, and it was created by a government to solve the unique problems the public sector faces. British bureaucrats grew tired of seeing different agencies configure networks, respond to incidents or manage help desks in different ways -- while the costs for each vary as well. In response, they composed a set of principles that can be reused by IT departments whether they are supporting transportation, public safety, human services or education.

The result has been a more service-oriented IT infrastructure that is less complex and -- not surprisingly -- less costly to operate. Now the British library of principles has been picked up by a growing number of U.S. organizations to change how they govern IT. In effect, the principles have helped organizations create a menu that describes to the rest of the enterprise what they offer and how much it will cost to have it delivered.

There's no question that for CIOs, writing the menu and teaching their chefs to prepare the items the same way at a set price is a difficult task, but the ones who have done it say their customers are happier and continue to come back.

Tod Newcombe  |  Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.