Every Project Needs a Champion
I just finished reading “The Taxman’s Burden” [April 1, 2001]. I must say, I think you were too kind to the IRS. I would suggest that failure of this $10 billion project will have more dire consequences to the IRS then just a loss of confidence by Congress and taxpayers. This could very well be the death knell for that organization, especially as other alternatives to the IRS come forward.
I am a graduate student in IS, and I found one thing curiously missing from your article: the fact that individual projects have no “champions”?no one to nurture the smaller projects along.
Although it was hard for me not to make little aside comments to what you wrote, I must confess I enjoyed your article and found it quite educational. It will certainly make a heated topic at my next class meeting.
Michael W. Riherd
Networks and Databases
It’s great to hear that the story will provoke discussion. It could be that if this project fails it will mean the end of the IRS as we know it, but none of the sources we interviewed?even the most pessimistic of them?were willing to go quite that far. One advocate for tax simplification quoted in the story does, nevertheless, argue that some of the IRS’s IT woes stem from the complexity of the current tax code. Regarding champions for individual projects, the IRS does have them. Bert Concklin, the associate commissioner for business systems, notes “every dollar and line of code has a business sponsor.” Perhaps that point should have been more explicit.
“The Taxman’s Burden” listed some interesting tidbits and factoids. It might have been better to title it “The Taxpayers’ Burden.” It seems amazing to me that people believe there will be an end to the madness for the IRS data processing problems. From the concept of political appointees to the concept of working with pieces of a large project, it appears that many people may still be missing the point.
If the whole project is too complex, why would breaking it up help? Instead of one massive adjustment cycle, one might hit multiple potential adjustments. Unless we assume that the IRS’s history of missing the target would disappear with little goals, the organization is destined to fail again.
It would be interesting to see what would happen if the process was put up for competitive bid. I mean, to be developed, run and managed for the government by a profit-oriented company. What an IPO that would make!
Ronald E. Stanton
Midrange Systems Specialists
We All Have Something to Sell
Mr. Zarb’s letter to the editor published in the April 15, 2001, letters section of CIO is on track, but it fails to correct a recurring myth. There is only one business in the world?the business of selling. Universal Studios, for example, may make movies, but it is in the business of selling entertainment. The marketing decision makers are the only ones with any direct claim to be a part of the business. Of course, the marketing effort cannot stand alone. That’s why the rest of us have jobs.
IT training has little to do with selling things. Chances are, you got to be the CIO by developing your technical and management skills. Those skills will serve you well in middle or even upper management, but they are more or less irrelevant to the business. I do not know where the CIO box ought to hang on the organization chart. But I do know that to be part of the strategic planning and decision-making process, you must bring ideas and solutions to the table that will significantly enhance the ability of the company to sell things.
CIO does well to offer articles on marketing, forecasting and other essential skills. But if you want function at the top, chances are you’re going to need an MBA and a lot of experience outside of IT.
No one is invited to the boardroom by whining about lack of respect or recognition for their accomplishments. If you want to be involved, you must make yourself invaluable.
Director for Financial Management and Reporting
La Mirada, Calif.
On the Mark
I am the president of a small consulting firm. Our exclusive business focus so far has been on the energy industry, providing it with both business and IT solutions. In the April 1, 2001, issue you published “ERP Implementa-tion in 10 Easy Steps” [Trendlines]. Although I hardly ever take the time to editorialize about things I read, I have got to make an exception. Your list was witty, courageous and right on the money. Curiously enough, among our clients the CIO is usually the one who brings in SAP and the consultants.
Antonio M. Szab—
Stone Bond Corp.
The Truth About Government I.T.
With respect to your article “Big D, Little IT” [April 15, 2001], I can definitely empathize with Mr. McFarland [Dallas’s CIO]. I’ve spent nearly 20 years in the public sector IT agency for one of the largest cities in America, and having risen to a senior management position I can relate. The perception some people have is that government employees have it easy. I am glad to see that your article gave the other side of the government IT story.
Is it any wonder that Gartner reports that the best and brightest top executives in state and local government IT have been in that position for less than three years and are leaving in droves for the private sector? I know of several government IT executives who valiantly fought many a political battle and survived but were promptly ambushed by some politician looking for a scapegoat. These IT executives were underpaid, overworked, underfunded, understaffed and tasked with making impossible IT dreams a reality. Not to mention the difficulty in attracting superior IT talent with below industry average pay, aging infrastructures and an unwieldy bureaucracy.
A human can only take so much in the government sector before the private sector becomes attractive. Several of my fellow public sector IT executives have left the government wastelands for privately held or publicly traded companies. I recently resigned my position to join a large e-business software and solutions provider. Yet government IT needs superior executive talent in order to provide the infrastructure necessary to support government and its services to the citizens.
What can be done? Education. Your article goes a long way toward dispelling many myths about a government CIO’s job. I can only hope and pray that articles like this one find their way to government decision makers. Without an ability to rapidly adapt to change, bypass bureaucratic slowness and hire the most talented people, government IT will truly develop into the stereotypical government agency: inefficient, unproductive and a place for people awaiting retirement.
Senior Vice President
Computer Associates InternationalIslandia, N.Y.