Some political leaders, eager to energize their government's IT capabilities, thoughtlessly turn to the private sector for solutions to their IT woes. In the mind of these politicians the private sector is always more dynamic, effective and responsive to the realities of the market, and so recruiting a CIO from the private sector to join their staff must be the best way to transform the government's IT organization.
Some CIOs, after a lifetime of earning the big dollars in the private sector, will happily oblige, agreeing to join the public service for a few years on a much lower salary, hoping they can make a difference.
As Gartner points out, these CIOs face a tough task: transitioning successfully to government from the private sector requires not only the successful application of skills already learned but the speedy acquisition of new political and relationship skills. In such a complex environment as government, uninitiated CIOs must labour to understand and work within the political and process climates that are present. That many fail to do so is suggested by the research company's prediction that through 2010, 50 percent of government CIOs who come from the private sector without any government experience will leave the position within 20 months.
Fortunately there are also politicians who know that often enough, the most effective government CIOs are those who have spent time in a range of government departments, have absorbed the culture and understand the constraints and limitations which can impact the public service.
Ann Steward, for instance, whose appointment as Australian Government Chief Information Officer was announced in June, has a lifetime of public service experience both in Australia and the UK, covering policy and operational leadership responsibilities, with core strengths addressing both strategy and development and its execution. She understands the procedures, politics and ethos of the public service intimately, and has taken part in programs on leading edge public sector strategy and management issues provided by world leading organizations such as the OECD, MIT and UC (Irvine).
She also has extensive senior level contacts in the public sector worldwide, and has led or participated in key G8 and OECD programs driving change in the application of IT for business transformation and integrated electronic service delivery.
"I've had a very great benefit of being able to work with about twenty five National CIOs around the world," Steward says.
Likewise the Victorian government was canny enough to snag one of the federal government's most senior and longest serving technology professionals in appointing former Centrelink CIO Jane Treadwell as Victorian government CIO to preside over the state's Office of the CIO and drive whole-of-government technology strategies.
As CIO since 1998 at Centrelink - the fourth biggest IT operation in the country - Treadwell commanded one of Australia's largest technology budgets. One can presume that the fact that the Victorian government was able to influence her to take on the State CIO position shows her confidence in the government's high regard for the importance of the position.
That Steward clearly has the strong backing of Finance Minister Nick Minchin and Parliamentary Secretary Eric Abetz, and that Treadwell has equally strong support from Minister for ICT Marsha Thomson and the proactive involvement of senior officials in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Treasury and Finance, suggest both should be able to make a real difference. Their extensive knowledge of the realities of the public service should do much of the rest.
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