The Federal CIO Holiday Wish List

The holiday season is in full swing and everyone is wondering what 2022 will bring.

While the jury is still out on who’s been naughty or nice, the one thing that’s certain is that, for the time being anyway, it’s looking like more of the same — the same budget constraints, the same supply chain problems, and the same cybersecurity challenges. For CIOs, in both the public and private sectors, this doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s been a rough few years with no end in sight. Escalating cyberattacks, shrinking budgets, and a workforce that scattered to the four corners seemingly overnight has only exacerbated pre-existing challenges to the point that it’s hard to know what to address first.

In the spirit of the holiday season, we’re channeling one of the holiday season’s most creative problem solvers and sharing a Federal CIO holiday wish list.

All the Whos down in Whoville …

Wish #1: Address the cybersecurity talent shortage.

Even though it’s been on everyone’s lips for years, little to no progress has actually been made in tackling the dearth of cybersecurity talent. The skills shortage is the choke point for what many CIOs, whether in private enterprise or government, are trying to accomplish. Developing (and training) a deep talent pool, therefore, should be at the top of every CIO’s holiday wish list. While the temptation might be to throw money at the problem, this isn’t a case of “raise salaries and they will come.” Quite the contrary. The bottlenecks are numerous, and whether you’re talking about talent acquisition, deployment or retention, the government must first ensure that it has the proper people on staff before it can grow its staff — without people to handle recruitment and assessment, you’re already running up against a wall.

The government is notorious for being slow to hire and even slower to fire, a fact that’s made it less agile and less attractive to today’s up-and-coming technical talent. Any IT modernization strategy must include efforts to recruit world-class IT candidates, and that means programs — from internships to scholarships and grants — that level the playing field and attract candidates from all walks of life, as well as underrepresented groups.

It came without ribbons, it came without tags …

Wish #2: The government will accelerate its digital transformation and future proofing.

Americans are used to acquiring goods and services through interesting interfaces, but to put it bluntly, all too many government websites are clunky and visually unappealing at best and confusing and disjointed at worst. The government has to get better (and faster) at providing services. In the pandemic era in which we find ourselves, people are relying on the government as never before. To meet the rising demand, the government needs to upgrade its customer-facing digital tools to make it easier for citizens to access information and services, and to make use of new technologies that will allow it to streamline internal business processes and enable its remote workforce.

It came without packages, boxes or bags …

Wish #3: Shore up infrastructure in a cost-effective manner so that resources and dollars can be put towards education and talent initiatives.

Budgets are tight and CapEx and OpEx dollars are competing for limited resources. No one knows this more than those CIOs affiliated with the government or its contractors and who are having to make hard choices about where to deploy funding. To free up money, CIOs must move critical functions from outdated and difficult-to-sustain platforms into more modern systems that operate at lower maintenance costs. Any realized cost savings can then be reinvested in projects that improve services and attract new talent — the more efficient the government is, the more services it can provide.

Maybe future-proofing doesn’t come from a store. Maybe, perhaps, it means a little bit more

Wish #4: A government that leverages the power of effective data management, data science and data analytics.

Like private enterprises, the government needs to understand the power of data in order to make better decisions. It needs to understand where data is, where it needs to be, and to what uses it can be applied. The challenge of data management is intertwined with that of talent management and infrastructure, making it an even more important piece of the puzzle.

Cybersecurity is in our grasp so long as we have hands to grasp

Wish #5: A modernization strategy that includes cybersecurity upgrades such as Zero Trust.

Our government’s data is extremely attractive to adversaries, and it’s imperative that we deny them unauthorized access. All the government’s efforts to improve our talent and infrastructure will be undermined if our data can’t be secured. Every CIO knows that the rush to the cloud has created a host of vulnerabilities, so it’s vital that dedicated infrastructure remains under maximum control of the owning agency.

While the Grinch’s heart might have grown to three sizes that day, it’s a safe bet most of us won’t be experiencing that kind of generosity in the near future. It’s incumbent on CIOs, therefore, to ensure that they not only know where their data is housed, but ensure that it’s protected. As the book closes on 2021, it’s time to banish over-privileged access and create a Zero Trust environment, where you trust no one and verify everyone. Sometimes it pays to be a grinch.

Leo Taddeo is president of Cyxtera Federal Group and chief information security officer at Cyxtera.

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