Dear Vivek: Congratulations on your recent appointment as the federal government’s first official Chief Information Officer. I have often wondered why the role has not existed up to now. I just assumed they could not find a person willing to take on the herculean task for a government salary. Evidently I was wrong. You seem like a pretty smart guy, you’ve had success in the public sector, and you’re willing to go out on a limb: Google Apps for 38,000 people in the District of Columbia. That takes guts!
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I read President Obama’s announcement of your appointment with a knowing smile. He said your role is “to work to ensure that we are using the spirit of American innovation and the power of technology to improve performance and lower the cost of government operations.”
Ah yes, the holy grail. Do amazing acts of daring, innovate to drive advantage, all while reducing spend. As CIO of AmerisourceBergen, a company that operates with a margin thinner than Intel’s latest chip, I too have faced that challenge. I thought I’d jot down a few suggestions as you get started there in D.C. with my money.
1. Do a complete map of your application and infrastructure environment. I guess you have to start with a map of all the agencies and how they report to you, and a map of the funding sources. Maybe you should hire a cartographer. Anyway, knowing where you are now is the first step to figuring out the most efficient way to get to where you need to go.
2. Use more EQ than IQ as you get started. You need to rally a loosely federated group of agency officials who are probably not keen on sharing. You need to quickly gain their confidence and trust. Engage them deeply, allow them to participate in decision making, and show your math when you make the final decisions. You’ll also need that EQ as you help those government officials understand that “CIO” is not a misspelled Italian goodbye.
3. Listen 90 percent of the time and talk 10 percent. The people who really know where the waste and opportunities lie probably aren’t your direct reports. You need to listen carefully to find them.
4. Flatten the organization. The best way to find your future innovators and leaders is to have less hierarchy, less weight sitting on top crushing the spirit of innovation.
5. When you hear the words “we tried that before and it didn’t work” immediately go after that opportunity.
6. Eliminate fear from your organization. Fear will destroy the innovative spirit. Reward and recognize failures as well as accomplishments when those failures were driving toward your vision.
7. Establish a system for rewarding the best ideas that combine efficiency, effectiveness and innovation. Create a fair and objective panel representing a cross-section of the organization to choose the winners.
8. The task at hand is huge. Break it up into smaller pieces, tie it together with excellent program management, and prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.
9. Establish a clear, simple governance structure that people understand, and stick to it. Use it to establish priorities, stick to priorities, make funding available in support of those priorities, and to stop spending that does not align to the vision. Wield the governance with transparency and fairness.
10. Most important of all, and perhaps your toughest challenge, is to hire really, really smart people, smarter than you, and to set them free to help you achieve your vision. I know it can be hard to hire people into the public sector, and I know it can be hard to move people out to make room, but it’s worth the effort.
So there you have it, Vivek. You have a lot of us CIOs rooting for you, if for no other reason than your success in driving efficiency and innovation benefits all us taxpayers! So go Google Apps, open source, SaaS, whatever it takes to drive down the bill. Oh, and don’t forget to innovate along the way.
Thomas Murphy is Senior Vice President & CIO for AmerisourceBergen. Prior to AmerisourceBergen Murphy spent five years as CIO for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Murphy began his career with Marriott Corporation and has worked with Interstate Hotels Corporation, Omni Hotels, Cendant Corporation and Bristol Hotels & Resorts. He was named one of Computer World’s 2002 Premier 100 IT Leaders. Murphy holds a BA in English and a minor in marketing from the University of Richmond, VA.