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Where Next for Government CIOs?

After the election, many government technology executives are in a period of transition. Whether you are coming or going or not sure, most public sector IT leaders are now asking: Where next?

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A new president of the United States will be coming into office.

And — perhaps for you — a new governor, county executive, legislature or city council with different perspectives is waiting in the wings. How will their business priorities affect you?

HR is telling us that our aging workforce is set to retire in an improving economy, raising the questions: Can we attract young talent on a government salary? Where is culture change needed? Does my executive team need a refresh?

Meanwhile, technology is changing all around the world with new innovative approaches being announced daily. Can we replace the legacy equipment that is so pervasive in government?

Perhaps the most central questions revolve around enterprise technology and cybersecurity protections moving forward. What should be the focus of strategic and tactical plans? Which projects need to be immediately pushed across the finish line? What new infrastructure items should be moved to the top of the list in the new cycle? Should we finally cancel that flailing system development effort?

All the time, the nagging question persists. Is my job in jeopardy?

And for those with track records of success and no worries about job security, perhaps you’re wondering: Am I keeping “the main thing the main thing?” Or even, what is the main thing?

Which leads us back to setting government CIO priorities as we head into 2017.

Government CIO Survey Results for 2017 Priorities

What are Government CIO priorities? Several state and federal government CIO survey results were recently released. The National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) released their 2017 State CIO Priorities this past week, with all 50 state CIOs participating in the survey.

The top 10 priority ranking includes, (note that a detailed description of each category can be found at their website):

  1. Security and Risk Management
  2. Consolidation/Optimization
  3. Cloud Services
  4. Budget, Cost Control, Fiscal Management
  5. Legacy Modernization
  6. Enterprise IT Governance
  7. Data Management and Analytics
  8. Enterprise Vision and Roadmap for IT
  9. Agile and Incremental Software Delivery
  10. Broadband/Wireless Connectivity
On a NASCIO call this week with corporate partners, Doug Robinson, the NASCIO executive director, said that acquiring talent was tied at No. 11 with several other priority items. Also, in a press release, Robinson said, “No major surprises in the priorities for 2017. State CIOs continue to recognize the importance of IT Governance as they address enterprise security, cloud services and drive IT consolidation. Agile software delivery makes it in the top ten for the second time, which reinforces the results from our recent national survey.”    

Meanwhile, over on the federal government side, a Grant Thornton survey of federal CIOs and CISOs in September 2016 also highlighted the need for better cybersecurity as the top priority.

The other top priority initiatives highlighted in the report include IT modernization, talent challenge, improving IT acquisition and moving to the cloud.  

As far as advice for the new administration taking office in 2017, the report (on page 3) offers this advice to the new administration:

“CIOs are very positive about the work that has been accomplished, including the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, making progress on FITARA [Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act] implementation, creating a dialogue on how to fund legacy systems modernization, and improving how the federal government buys IT. CIOs want to build on these accomplishments.

CIOs have a growing concern with cybersecurity threats and their agency’s ability to respond in a timely manner. CIOs underscored the importance of reinforcing that cybersecurity is not solely an IT priority to be handled by the CIO, but must be coordinated and supported across the entire senior management team at agencies, including cabinet secretaries. The need for speed, flexibility, and agility within the workforce and culture of agencies is also noted by CIOs.

The new administration must find ways to better leverage technology to change the way agencies do business to respond more quickly and efficiently. Survey participants also want incoming administration officials to fully consider on-going initiatives that will need continued support through the transition in order to be successfully implemented. These include but are not limited to FITARA, the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, legacy systems modernization, and streamlining the hiring process.”

Why Cybersecurity is the top CIO priority — Again

Three years ago when I was still the Michigan CISO, I wrote this blog describing why cybersecurity was back on top of the CIO “must do” list. The list describes these five reasons:

1) The number of security incidents occurring now. 

2)  The bad guys are getting much better — and it is hard to keep quality good guys (white hat hackers). 

3) The scope and complexity of securing major new computer systems. 

4) The ubiquitous use of technology in every area of life.

5)  The people problem in security. 

Despite the list of examples being different under each point, I still believe this list is valid. For example, we now have more Internet of Things (IoT) items, including autonomous vehicles, drones, artificial intelligence (AI), and more under No. 4. We also have an even greater shortage of cyber pros with experience under No. 5.

Back in early 2015, CIO magazine offered this article on why government CIOs continue to list security as their top priority. For more details, this article highlighted the 2014 Deloitte-NASCIO Cybersecurity Study, and the 2016 Deloitte-NASCIO Cybersecurity Study is available now.  

Where’s the Help? Resources to Consider for New CIOs

I also recognize that many new government CIOs will be reading this article over the coming year. You may be wondering where you can turn for guidance. Here are a few ideas to help with your homework:

— Federal CIO Council:

— Federal IT Dashboard:

— National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) Website —

— Visit these award-winning State IT Best-practices to review top projects —  

— National Association of Counties (NACo) website —

— National Governors Association Center for Best Practices website —

And for some lighter reading, I like this article written earlier this year on, “7 things no one tells a new CIO.” I especially like the positive ending which, after describing all the challenges and obstacles that government technology leaders must overcome — highlights that (most) CIOs love their jobs and find a lot of meaning and fulfillment in helping society in measurable ways.

My Closing Observations

These are exciting, challenging and truly unprecedented times for government CIOs. Most public- and private-sector experts believe that software is still eating the world. Here’s a quote from a related WSJ article: “No matter your industry, you’re expected to be reimagining your business to make sure you’re not the next local taxi company or hotel chain caught completely off guard by your equivalent of Uber or Airbnb. But while the inclination to not be 'disrupted' by startups or competitors is useful, it’s also not exactly practical.”

For government CIOs (and CISOs) to thrive in 2017 and beyond, they must keep reinventing their organizations just as businesses like Amazon are reinventing themselves. From new partnerships to new technologies to new skills required to manage contracts, CIOs and CISOs are driven to reassess what’s working and what isn’t.

And yet, the resources and conflicting priorities in the public sector place technology leaders in an unenviable position to do more with less at a time when everything is connecting to the Internet and cybersecurity challenges are growing.

While political changes are a fact of life, the next few years promise to be unlike anything we have ever seen. But we are not the first people to think like that.

Remember when this was written: “It was best of times, it was the worst of times. ...”

It still is.

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.