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Resolutions to Position Your CIO for Success in the New Year

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By Larry Payne December 28, 2016

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Larry Payne is senior vice president of U.S. public sector at Cisco.  

It’s a new year, a new administration and a new era for the federal government—especially in the realm of technology. There is more data than ever before and more ways to use it. So, how will government agencies embrace this evolution, and how will they protect themselves from potential risks?

In my opinion, it starts with strong leadership—particularly a chief information officer who has a seat at the table, a knowledgeable workforce and a comprehensive IT strategy. When envisioning the opportunities you have as you usher your IT system into the digital era, here are five new year’s resolutions to consider to position your CIO for success in building the agency’s digital future.

Secure a Seat at the Table for the CIO

This, in my opinion, is key. The agency needs an IT system both secure and transformational, and one that can manage daily activities but is ready to build and grow. This requires proactivity and a two-way dialogue at the leadership level, which will enable the CIO to build an IT strategy that supports how the agency wants to operate and evolve.

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An example that comes to mind is when CIO of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Mark Schwartz revamped the organization’s visa application process. He was successful because of his active role in the upfront discussions when they discussed the primary objective to make the citizenship application much more accessible, giving applicants an easily understood step-by-step process.

Schwartz understood the business objectives, so he was able to develop an application process to meet the ultimate end-goal versus just responding to a request. The CIO can support the agency in its objectives while balancing subtle tradeoffs that may come with a new digital IT system.

Make Cybersecurity Education a Priority

The CIO has a seat at the table and he or she has set up a seamless digital IT system—the perfect scenario. But one wrong click from one employee sends the whole system crashing down. This may have been prevented if cybersecurity was top of mind.

The departments of Homeland Security and Defense both offer cybersecurity training programs, and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies offers great free online training here. However, to truly change one’s behavior, cybersecurity education should be part of every training and every discussion, and the CIO should have an active role.

A specific tactic might look like this: set up a fake phishing email campaign that is sent to employees. Track how many employees click on a link or open an attachment in the message. Those employees would then receive a response from the CIO explaining the potential risks involved in engaging with a suspicious email and what to avoid in the future. Consider them your new change ambassadors for strengthening the culture of cybersecurity.

Simplify the IT System

Government IT can be extremely complex with multiple vendors and protocols. For example, an average enterprise has about 40 different vendors for security alone, which makes for a convoluted environment, and one that isn’t operating smoothly at all.

This is a great time to apply the "less is more" criteria. Try narrowing down the number of your technology vendors—noting which systems are working effectively with each other, and determining which vendors align with the organization’s current and (importantly) future IT needs.

When you go to choose these vendors, consider asking questions like, “What does your solution roadmap look like?” and “How agnostic is your solution?” If vendors don't have answers that align with your agency’s technology vision, they likely won’t be a good fit.

Don’t Wait for a Crisis to Modernize

Why else is simplifying important? Managing potential IT issues. Bad news with your IT systems doesn't get better with time. In fact, it gets much worse.

For instance, take a legacy IT system not receiving software updates because the hardware is at end of life. It’s also not receiving security patches, which is driving vulnerability through the roof. The software must be updated immediately to be compliant and to avoid major security issues, but the system isn’t set up to flag the software update until it’s almost too late.

It’s the CIO’s job to flag potential IT issues in real-time and mitigate risk, which is difficult with an aging IT system and no investment in future technologies.

Invest in Your Agency’s IT Future

Investing in the future of your IT infrastructure is critical if you want it to be agile, efficient and smart. By investing in future technologies, including the cloud, the CIO can better innovate and support the agency. But continuing to invest in legacy IT tools prevents the CIO from building a modern, digital system.  

One way to support the CIO’s investment in new digital technologies is to double down on FedRAMP. FedRAMP compliance enables technology vendors to work with federal agencies while ensuring security.

Another important investment is one in your IT organization’s expertise. Many successful companies focus on college students or young professionals, providing them proper IT education and training early in career. Also, you can recruit talent in the military transitioning out of active service. This cohort typically has a strong foundation of knowledge around IT and IT systems from their experience, which can easily be nurtured to support your IT strategy.

While the IT landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace, these five resolutions can help prepare your agency for what 2017 will bring. With a seat at the table, an educated workforce, a simplified and modernized IT system, and an investment in the future, it’s sure to be a very happy new year.

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