The CIO-wonder pill for government

In a world where budget constraints are the talk of the day, also IT-projects at public organizations get more attention. The disaster stories on project failures and budget black holes around often very large and countrywide development projects are known for some years now. As a result the Dutch government decided to introduce a mandatory CIO-role in public organizations. Although the idea is logical, in practice it opens up another can of worms.

Aside all involved emotions, the main overall reason for any project disaster is control and this starts right at the beginning. Wrong starting reasons, wrong assumptions, wrong project definition, wrong budgeting and planning are the source of most evil. Sounds familiar? Nothing special for the public environment but generic to any project. Though there are a few additional elements that play a role:

IT solution instead of business solutions

Because IT is often not a strategic part of public business, IT-projects are often commissioned as pure &ldqu;solve it by automation&rdqu; assignments with no proper cost/benefit thinking and no integral business solution in mind. Combine this with the typical yearly &ldqu;start from scratch&rdqu; budget allocation one sees in public organizations and the chances for wrong investments and growing additional costs can be foreseen without the need for any crystal ball.

Politics

Unlike a business environment where the management is hierarchical &ldqu;owner&rdqu; of the IT-organization, in public life the demand and supply organization are &ldqu;loosely coupled&rdqu;. E.g., parliament decides on a piece of tax legislation and a tax office IT-group has to deliver the supporting application on the given day, regardless of costs, technical consequences and relations with other applications. To even make it more complex: a chosen minister, council member, etc. is in the eyes of the standing IT-organization whom they should manage also a by-stander who will be replaced after four years.

Introducing a mandatory CIO-role in a public organization will, apart from addressing the generic control issues, indeed address directly the first issue. Even on the politics-aspect the CIO could be instrumental if involved in potential political discussion in time to advise all parties on the impact of choices. But from observation a lot has to be changed to make a CIO-role productive.

Just appointing a CIO is the easy bit. Getting him or her accepted as management team member in an often very traditional environment is the first problem. Empowerment is the second issue: responsibilities and authority have to be carefully defined and handed over. Only than a CIO can start with the main task at hand: defining and implementing a proper demand, supply and control organization. Not surprisingly established positions are not given up lightly and the early days of CIO's fighting their way into business re-emerge. The question is if the type of CIO's attracted to and appointed in a public organization will have the stamina to succeed or will end up on the career-is-over graveyard.

What do you think?

Results2Match has a strong vision on proven and successful business management solutions and result driven implementations.

This blog is written by Hans van Nes. Hans is a very experienced interim manager and (radical) change management consultant. You can contact Hans through his Results2Match email address.


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