FWD50: Digital government shakes up the CIO role

November 10, 20175 Minute Read

After day two of the FWD50 conference in Ottawa, one thing was made abundantly clear: If you’re gunning for a CIO position, you need to understand that the traditional role has changed—somewhat drastically. The CIO role in government, especially, has been rapidly evolving ever since it was tasked with understanding emerging technologies, like social media platforms. Now, CIOs aren’t only having conversations about technology anymore—they’re beginning to pull up a chair at business transformation committees to discuss today’s technological climate and newly digital government. In other words, a CIO today must be business savvy—not just tech savvy.

There are a number of factors affecting this change in the CIO role, like the federal government’s shift to a Shared Services model. For years, CIOs focused on technology delivery, and many felt comfortable in that role. But when so many activities have been outsourced to Shared Services, CIOs are no longer techies. Instead, that hat’s worn by deputy technology officers. Departmental IT is one the few groups left with a horizontal view of government business. Yes, it has clients across the entire business, but it also understands the goals and outcomes they’re trying to achieve.

So, what does this all mean? If you’re a CIO or an aspiring IT person who wants to keep pace with today’s tech landscape—and its evolving roles—you should listen up and follow these steps:

Sharpen your security skills

When it comes to security and privacy, you need to know how to deploy technology and have the right mindset to become a digital leader. Privacy doesn’t have to be a stumbling block to innovation—it can actually be an enabler. To avoid that “oops” moment, security and privacy should be established features in everything you create before pressing that launch button.

The European Union’s looming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the perfect example of how the necessary skills in IT are changing—especially if you’re in charge of privacy. If you’re in range of GDPR, your organization will likely need a data protection officer, which demands skills and expertise relevant to law and business operations, on top of a knowledge of security technologies.

Security’s no longer something “done over there.” Now, different parts of the government need to work together to keep IT up to date.

Protect the public trust

Building on that foundation of sharpened security skills, today’s digital government also needs CIOs and technology leaders to put themselves in the shoes of citizens. Why? Doing so will allow tech leaders to identify all threat vectors putting their citizens at risk, but they may need to get a little creative to be as comprehensive as possible. After all, malware threats and data breaches aren’t the only threats anymore—attacks are happening across institutional and geographic boundaries.

This is why everyone in government has become obsessed with security. If you’ve already decided you want to rise in its ranks, remember: The most fundamental currency of government is trust and demonstrating the competence to maintain that trust among citizens. Public safety is a foundational responsibility of government. When a data breach happens at scale, it undermines confidence in the economy—and the government as a whole. It’s up to IT to prevent this from happening at all costs.

That said, protecting the people and their trust is easier said than done, but you can start taking these immediate steps to form an impenetrable cybersecurity defence:

  • Build a strong, hierarchical cybersecurity policy
  • Update all software, hardware, and firmware at your organization—and keep it updated as often as possible
  • Back up your data and have a disaster recovery solution in place
  • Change default passwords on all endpoint devices and institute strong password policies across the board
  • Take time to educate your users and employees—they are the first line of defence and need to be keenly aware of all risks they may fall victim to

Remember: People are still people

You need to understand human behaviour if you want to build strong security policies. Behavioural economics teaches us that human beings are more willing to accept unfairness from a computer than they are from other people. Why? A computer has no agency. When people process unfairness in their brains, it’s done the same way they process disgust.

Behavioural economics recognizes that decisions are influenced by other factors, like systemic biases, other people, or the surrounding environment. We all may think our decisions come from a studied cost-benefit analysis, but the truth is our decisions are predictably irrational. But you can build predictable irrationality into your designs.

When designing systems, you’ll need to consider three things:

  • Attention: Attention is a limited resource, which means people will inevitably miss information. To compensate, you’ll need to build intuitiveness into your design.
  • Context: Context influences how we see and interpret information, and it can fundamentally alter decisions. Make sure you balance the amount of information you’re throwing at your users—don’t provide too much or too little.
  • Time: Because time is relative, people have a “present” bias—for example, we don’t save for retirement because we want to go on vacation now. You’ll want to factor this mentality into your design, along with convenience and ease of use.

As a CIO, your task is to make these systems easy, but in today’s increasingly digital government, it’s proving to be a complex task, because there’s exponentially more information for citizens to process—and a lot of context competing for attention. Tread carefully.

Reevalute your priorities and focus on moving forward

If you think your work is cut out for you, you’re right. CIOs will need to learn how to straddle the line between business and technical conversations, and they’ll need to act as educators to spark discussion around hot-button issues. Whether it’s digital transformation, privacy by design, or improving citizen engagement, being a CIO today is just as much about culture and practices as it is about tech. Remember: Government is more than just a service provider—it’s also a regulator, stimulator, and educator. If you’re a CIO, you need to be, too.

For more discussions from the FWD50 conference, check out “FWD50 2017: Government’s going agile, and so can you,” featuring our on-the-ground coverage of day one, straight from the conference floor. And don’t forget to come back to Tektonika next week—our journey at FWD50 isn’t over yet!

Featured image courtesy of Eva Blue.

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