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Public CIOs: Optimistic or Conservative?

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By Robert Charette July 2, 2009

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It was great to see that U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra was able to get the new federal government IT dashboard up and running as promised by the end of June. Score one for a government group meeting an IT promise on schedule.

I find the dashboard interesting for what it shows, as well as what it doesn't show. For instance, while the CIOs at the Agriculture, Transportation, Justice and Veterans Affairs departments have all given their evaluations of their department's IT projects, others like the Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Commerce departments, etc. have not. This is disappointing and hopefully that information (and not some default rating) will be forthcoming soon.

According to the dashboard Web site, in making their evaluation:

"The CIO balances the following criteria: requirements management, risk management, contractor oversight, past performance, human capital, and other factors that the CIO deems vital."

Given that insight, it becomes even more interesting to look at the various agency CIOs' evaluations where they do exist, and then look at the summary data provided on the dashboard for the agency's projects' cost and schedule. For instance, at Justice, there are no projects that are in the red in relation to their cost and schedule, but two are placed there by the CIO. The Agriculture CIO determined that three IT projects are red and 12 are yellow, yet there are three IT projects red in terms of cost (four are yellow), and while nine are red in terms of schedule (eight are yellow).

So, does this mean that there are a couple of Justice IT projects going bad, while a number of those in Agriculture are getting better? And is schedule not as much a concern to the Agriculture CIO as is cost?

I also am puzzled a bit on how, in the overall ratings for Agriculture, that only two projects are deemed as red when the CIO says there are three that are red. I thought from the FAQs that the CIO rating trumps all?

The Transportation CIO also seems to rate fewer projects red than the cost and schedule data show, while the VA CIO shows more.

Following CIO evaluations over time will likely provide some interesting insights into CIO evaluation bias and risk tolerance -- both optimistic and conservative -- in rating their IT projects. It also should be useful in terms of determining the ultimate value of the published quantitative cost and schedule data in predicting IT project success as opposed to other qualitative factors -- like internal risk assessments -- that the CIO uses.

Assuming they hang around long enough, we should be able to tell which CIOs really have good insights into the true states of their IT projects and which are more concerned in keeping their overall agency IT project rating as "green" as possible.

It should be fun to watch.

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