Ed Toner

Decisions a CIO Should Not Make

I am starting to realize how my approach to IT has evolved from my Industrial Engineering roots. At the State of Nebraska we focus on introducing efficiencies, consistency and reliability in everything we do. Those efforts resulted in the State’s centralized IT environment delivering dependable services at a relatively low cost. Recently our dependability was tested, and our IT teammates performed admirably to exceed expectations. Yet, as we say in IT, we always have more work to do.

The OCIO is working on the State’s Application Portfolio Management (APM). Now that we have a centralized environment, we can identify the applications that need our attention and construct the network architecture to support them.  Our job will never be complete, but with a structured approach we can focus on improving IT capabilities Statewide.  For my team, my guidance is that this is where a CIO’s responsibilities end.  The business strategy belongs to the customer organizations we serve (in our case, the customers are the State agencies).

The business processes belong to the customer/agency. From an IT perspective, it is Always Good to Have a Plan.  Any organization is continuously updating their business plan, and they should be communicating it to the entire team so that long-term business plans can align technology with business priorities. Many business leaders have a strategy in mind, even if they have not documented it. Whatever their reason for doing this, the entire team needs to know which key activities have to occur to get where the organization wants to go.  Once leaders document and share the strategy, it provides opportunities for the technology team to see where they can be of assistance in your success.

A CIO and the technology team is responsible for determining the overall architectural strategy, standards and methodologies to meet the needs of a customer organization. The team provides continued service over the long term, but they do not take the lead on business strategy. This often includes organizational and/or business process change.  Business strategy decisions belong to the business executives who rely on input from their teams. In my experience, willingness to take on these decisions is a major factor in successful introduction and operation of complex business systems. Leaving business decisions to the IT department is risking satisfaction with the project itself. IT can attempt to build a system that is all things to all people, but these projects accumulate cost with diminishing returns.

In an enterprise organization, before beginning a project, a business leader must have a prioritized portfolio of their programs and projects.  The portfolio should define critical business needs, and have strong project management and governance.  Project Managers report updates to business leaders, and maintain the necessary resources for documentation, training, testing and validation. Leaders recognize significant cost savings and strategic benefits from modern IT when they partner with IT in this way.

I do not feel the State of Nebraska should standardize everything that is IT-related across the enterprise. Agencies should have some level of self-government, especially when a standard restricts the Agency’s flexibility to provide services to their customers.  A State organization’s business case must document these services to ensure that the varying standards will not result in delivering less value to the State as a whole.

One constant has never changed over my two-plus decades in the technology field.  When it comes time to place blame, the fingers always point to technology.  I believe this can change with our State, with Business and Technology Executives being committed, aligned and engaged.  It never hurts to get into the weeds a little and maybe get our hands dirty in the process.

As always, I appreciate your efforts to provide quality services to the State and the Citizens of Nebraska!

Ed Toner

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