Wall of Apathy Must Come Down

Wall of Apathy Must Come Down

Public sector CIOs need stronger support from senior management but can't get it because of an "Impenetrable Wall of Technical Apathy" according to a new report from Gartner.

The report, entitled "Government CIOs Must Gauge Executives' Understanding of Technology" says that to achieve positive results CIOs must be determine the "thickness" of the walls impeding their success and develop appropriate strategies.

Gartner has identified several variables which can determine a government CIOs success, apart from that individual's own competence. Of these it defines the three most important as the personal-trust relationship between the CIO and the chief executive officer (CEO), the IT management aptitude of the executives positioned above the CIO and the role of the CIO in command-and-control processes such as budgeting and procurement.

"At least one of these variables will be present in the organization of a successful CIO," Gartner says.

To help CIOs gauge their chances of success under whichever organizational model they are operating under, Gartner has introduced the concept of the "Impenetrable Wall of Technical Apathy (IWOTA)".

"As organizational conflicts arise and the CIO escalates the conflict to someone empowered to resolve it, there will often be an executive who simply doesn't understand the role of technology," a recent Gartner report says.

"The CIO will need to decide, in advance, which persons in the organization are averse to dealing with technology issues."

Under Gartner's scoring chart, CIOs can measure the "thickness" of the IWOTA for any people positioned above the CIO in the approval chain. The goal is to help them make strategic decisions about how to handle conflict. The chart assesses such factors as the executive's level of fear of, and understanding of technology; how much they care about the role of technology in the organization; their willingness to be educated about technology and other matters; their level of concern about day-to-day operations; their willingness to address and resolve conflicts and their ability to make non-policy decisions.

It says executives with a very low score may not readily understand or care about technology, but know management involves using the tools and assets available. It suggests these executives can be educated to understand and embrace technology, helping them become invaluable in resolving organizational and process conflicts, and CIOs should approach these individuals openly and confide in them.

The report suggests CIOs will find those in the middle harder to turn on to new unfamiliar issues. As a result, CIOs should initially approach these individuals only about issues that are unrelated to technology (such as policy objective clarification, process disputes and organizational conflicts), and begin to try to educate them about the role that technology can play in the success of the organization only once a dialogue has been opened.

Higher scoring executives, it maintains, are usually marginal executives who are not technically literate.

"They tend to avoid issues outside their own area of expertise and prefer to remain involved in relatively high policy-level decisions rather than day-to-day operations. . . . For a CIO, cracking their IWOTA will be very difficult and may require that the CIO seek other avenues for conflict resolution, such as legislative leaders, business process owners (for example, budget or HR) or executives higher than them in the organization but not necessarily directly above them.

Then there are those top scorers, who are typically ineffective executives who are much more concerned about creating a vision and leaving the details to others. They tend to be indecisive and are averse to holding meetings at which conflict might occur.

"These individuals would be open to learning about technology only at the highest policy level and with direct implications for an election. Many in these positions are political confidants of the CEO and have little or no prior experience at running large organizations. CIOs should avoid reporting relationships with these individuals at all costs (even if it means accepting a lower-level reporting relationship in the government). If conflicts arise, the CIO should attempt to settle them with the antagonist, because the status quo is unlikely to change in favour of the CIO," Gartner says.

A CIO should generate an IWOTA score not only for his or her own manager, but for all executives above the CIO, including the CEO, it says.

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