Superstar CIOs

The superstar CIO is necessarily going to be a bit of a flimflam artist. He has to be, because in order to get into the position, he’s had to dazzle his non-technical superiors. That means eye-candy, first and foremost, delivered fast. Delivered fast, you say, how can he do that with his sclerotic organization? Easy, he contracts off to the side or builds a private skunk-works.

So, from Vivek Kundra (US Federal CIO) on the one hand we have the flimflam of, and various high level dashboard trackers ( anyone?), tossed up quickly by a tiger team. Not indicative of transformation, but rather the opposite: in order to get anything completed quickly the CIO has to actually route around his existing organization. But there is also some substance.

Some of the substance is pure management, like the review of failing projects. Some is technological silver-bullet-worship (of a sort I can appreciate, being a long-time silver bullet lover) like the move to government use of cloud infrastructure (both external and self-managed). (Because the answer is always another layer of abstraction!)

But one thing comes through clearly watching Mr. Kundra: it’s a really big organization and he’s just one guy. The culture will out-live him. The men in grey suits will win. In some ways a full-on flimflam artist would be better, because at least then I wouldn’t be disappointed when nothing changes.

Postscript: Kundra did manage to change some things but many of his marquee initiatives were separately funded initiatives that Congress is now de-funding for political reasons. And the news today is that he’s leaving his post for academe to take a well-earned break. Did he push the culture in the right direction? Probably so!