Former NASA CIO tells how government CIOs -- who often face challenges of mythological proportions -- can become heroes.
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Philosopher Alan Watts said, "Myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world." Perhaps a myth is a fitting way to make sense of a CIO's world.
The world of the CIO is a series of battles, challenges, and encounters with villains like those faced, conquered, and slain by ancient heroes. But the modern-day CIO hero who understands these monsters can overcome the formidable challenges and live to face another day. Here are three mythological monsters that represent modern-day challenges and the strategies CIOs can use to conquer them.
Poor IT Governance Is A Chimera
The Chimera is a three-headed monster with the forepart of a lion, a goat for the middle and the tail of a snake. Bellerophone eventually defeated the Chimera with the help of Pegasus, the winged horse. Bellerophone rode Pegasus to a safe height and killed the monster with an arrow.
Like the Chimera, the challenges of IT governance are created by the misalignment of three creatures: business strategy, IT strategy, and decision processes. Our feckless CIO hero must form an IT strategy and make good decisions with the notable absence of business or mission input. Our hero is accountable for producing positive business outcomes despite the nonexistence of a unified business strategy.
Like Bellerophone, our CIO hero must slay this monster from on high. Those relying solely on developing peaceful alliances with the misaligned and monstrous combination of strategies and decision-making will eventually be destroyed by one of them. CIOs will meet the lion who roars about how he can better deliver IT services. They will also meet the goat who constantly says, "Bah," decrying the good intentions of any IT strategy. Finally, there is the snake, who says nothing or is perhaps publicly agreeable and strikes fatally without warning.
The triumph comes in recognizing that successful strategies only come from the very top. The Titans in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress repeatedly challenge CIOs to address this problem. However, the upper federal departmental echelons must be the source for addressing these problems.
Perhaps it is tilting at windmills to hope that politically appointed department heads have fundamental business knowledge and understand the role of the CIO and the need for IT strategies supporting the mission. It might be even more naïve to expect that members of the federal Senior Executive Service have essential business acumen with a similar understanding.
But CIOs must tilt against the windmills, for department heads have the weapons to slay this beast. Unarmed CIOs will beat their heads against the inner castle walls, typically for 18 months. Next, they leave government and return as consultants who tell folks how easy it all is. The CIOs who avoid that fate are those who succeed in winning active support from federal department heads and the OMB.
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