Chris Moore has a good post up on his blog at the moment that asks “Will Canadian Cities ever be Strategic?” In it (and it is very much worth reading) he hits on a theme I’ve focused on in many of my talks to government but that I think is also relevant to citizens who care about how technologically sophisticated their government is (which is a metric of how relevant you think you government is going to be in a few years).
If you want to know how serious your government or ministry is about technology there is a first simple step you can take: look at the org chart.
Locate the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Simple question: Is he or she part of the senior executive team?
If yes – there is hope that your government (or the ministry you are looking at) may have some strategic vision for IT.
If no – and this would put you in the bucket with about 80% of local governments, and provincial/federal ministries – then your government almost certainly does not have a strong vision, and it isn’t going to be getting one any time soon.
As Chris also notes and I’ve been banging away at (such as during my keynote to MISA Ontario), in most governments in Canada the CIO/CTO does not sit at the executive table. At the federal level they are frequently Director Generals, (or lower), not Assistant Deputy Minister level roles. At the local level, they often report into someone at the C-level.
This is insanity.
I’m trying to think of a Fortune 500 company – particularly one which operates in the knowledge economy – with this type of reporting structure. The business of government is about managing information… to better regulate, manage resources and/or deliver services. You can’t be talking about how to do that without having the CIO/CTO being part of that conversation.
But that’s what happens almost every single day in many govenrment orgs.
Sadly, it gets worse.
In most organizations the CIO/CTO reports into the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). This really tells you what the organization thinks of technology: It is a cost centre that needs to be contained.
We aren’t going to reinvent government when the person in charge of the infrastructure upon which most of the work is done, the services are delivered and pretty much everything else the org does depends on, isn’t even part of the management team or part of the organizations strategic conversations.
It’s a sad state of affairs and indicative of why our government’s are so slow in engaging in new technology.
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It’s the enduring issue, getting the CIO to the Sr.Mgmt table. CIOCanada.ca magazine regularly has stories that has this as their concluding recommendation. But I think this approach lacks the right driver: a value for the role of IM/IT in an organisation.
It goes without saying IT thinks IT should be at the table. If the org values IT, have IT at the valuable table. But not all firms value IT. I can’t say I myself understand that, given my background, but I am tolerant of those views, given that all too often all branches of an organisation are often competing for attention and priority around the Sr.Mgmt table.
Placing the CIO at the Sr.Mgmt table doesn’t make it de-facto important. I would argue placing CIO at the table without an underlying priority for their work and the role of IM/IT can spell more disaster, especially if the CIO doesn’t have an IM/IT background. And this is what is happening already.
CIOs are valuable at Sr.Mgmt not (only) because IM/IT is important for an organisation, but (also) because the CIO has insight not found elsewhere around the table (if not by the CFO). But would a Sr.Mgmt recognize a CIO if they found one? Probably not, unless they have the background or rely on outside advice. In the process they risk merely promoting someone to the CIO level who says what Sr.Mgmt wants to hear, that which is easily understandable, which may have no impact on IM/IT operations in an organisation.
The devil is in the details. The wrong people in the right position make wrong decisions. If the current CIOs in Government lack IM/IT background (which I suspect), promoting them or granting them a seat at the Sr.Mgmt table may result in no change, or even further damage.
The larger picture is that Gov’t has a problem with recruitment, retention and talent management. Not to mention a severe problem with Information Management (this stifles Open Data significantly – how do you open data you can’t even access internally?). If there’s a CIO seat in Sr.Mgmt, left unfilled may have more of an impact than not having it at all.
Hi Doug – in completely agreement. This is a logical extension to what I am saying.
The only thing I would disagree with in your post is the statement “It goes without saying IT thinks IT should be at the table.” I’ve actually seen lots of (especially government) IT departments which don’t want to be at the sr. mgmt table. They like being out of site, don’t want to have the pressure of having to think strategically but prefer just being told what is wanted of them. So I think the issue here isn’t just with the organization learning that it needs a strategic CIO, it’s also about some IT groups learning that their future (and the future of their gov/org) depends on an IT dept that is forward looking, strategic and thinking about where the organization is going, not merely reacting to demands.