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Five Strategies for CIOs to Stay On Top of the Game

By Brian Williams

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) plays a vital role in federal agencies. They are accountable for managing billions of dollars in IT spend, and the decisions they make impact how successful a business is in leveraging technology. To be truly effective, CIOs know they must keep the function running at its best. Yet, according to the US Government Accountability Office's (GAO’s) most recent figures, three-quarters of those who take up a CIO role are gone within three years. What gives? And how can these numbers spell success for either federal agencies or the individuals involved?

Turnover can occur for various reasons—a change in administration, retirement from federal service, the lure of higher-paying jobs in the private sector or a security breach. If the role was not challenging enough, the pandemic-driven move to being a digital-first organization with most staff working remotely forced CIOs to be even more agile and innovate on the fly. But when it comes to CIOs getting fired, the common yet vague accusation of having been “ineffective” covers a multitude of potential issues. These myriad causes, many of which may sound subjective or seem to stem from external considerations, impact the multifaceted CIO position. To help you navigate this complex, dynamic terrain, we’ve used our long-term experience and insights from working with federal agencies and commercial sectors, as well as input from GAO’s survey report, and other metrics, to reveal the most common challenges CIOs face. We’ve also devised strategies for resolving these problems, keeping you at the top of your game. In the following pages, we unpack the five key things CIOs must address to excel in this important position.

These myriad causes, many of which may sound subjective or seem to stem from external considerations, impact the multifaceted CIO position. To help you navigate this complex, dynamic terrain, we’ve used our long-term experience and insights from working with federal agencies and commercial sectors, as well as input from GAO’s survey report, and other metrics, to reveal the most common challenges CIOs face. We’ve also devised strategies for resolving these problems, keeping you at the top of your game. In the following pages, we unpack the five key things CIOs must address to excel in this important position.

Step 1: Implement Comprehensive IT Governance—How can you establish a comprehensive IT governance program?

Step 2: Prioritize Strategic Planning—How can you ensure success in strategic planning?

Step 3: Be Proactive About Security—How can you get ahead of potential security issues?

Step 4: Address Common IT Workforce Issues—How can you develop a preemptive workforce plan?

Step 5: Choose Contracts Wisely—What are the key aspects of effective vendor management? 

The federal CIO peer group shares many unique opportunities to enhance the business. Its members also face an array of well-documented risks, any one of which can get them fired or in hot water. The CIO who proactively addresses and mitigates these five challenges will increase their probability for lasting tenure, while also contributing to peak business performance.

Working with a skilled partner can help in detecting such problems and generating unbiased, objective, quantifiable, effective ways to solve them. 

Find out how Guidehouse's 5-step strategy can help you develop a strategic plan to stay on top of the game and weather IT challenges.


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