CTOs face challenges in tech advances

Many CTOs feel that they are their company's "chief transformation officer," with one foot in strategy and one foot in prevailing technology.

That is, at least, according to Norman Lorentz, CTO of the US federal government's Office of Management and Budget.

Among the technology evolutions shaping the CTO job description are integration; open-source software; staffing issues, such as recruiting and retaining skilled IT workers; and emerging technologies, including grid computing.

During a lively panel discussion that swept across a broad range of topics last week at the Washington, D.C. Area CTO Roundtable Summit, Lorentz likened his role to that of a chief transformation officer for the federal government as he pushes forth with the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA), a multitiered program to re-engineer the lines of business with the federal government and to use gap/redundancy analysis in the deployment of technologies by agencies.

The fed's top CTO sees the newly created U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as another factor that will force wholesale changes on the way the feds approach technology and operations. "DHS demands that we do things in a different way. The way to effectively create this is through an architectural approach with clear outcome expectations. You can't just add up 22 agencies in old ways," he said.

Lorentz also announced that Version 2 of the FEA's Business Reference Model, a function-driven framework for describing the business operations of the government, will be released in February to be used for the 2005 budget cycle and that the first version of Performance Reference Model, a schema for measuring progress toward the adoption of FEA, will likely be released in late December or early January.

Joining Lorentz on the panel were Michael R. Nelson, director of Internet technology and strategy at IBM, and Billy Marshall, vice president of enterprise product strategy at Red Hat. As Lorentz said that open source is alive and well in the federal government, both Marshall and Nelson cited an increased adoption of open source by enterprise CTOs.

"We're 5-10 percent along on the Linux revolution. [Grid computing] will push this trend along. We need open source software to make the next generation Internet easier to use," said Nelson, who develops grid computing strategies at IBM.

As much as the choices are brought by the use of Linux in the enterprise, CTOs will face future corporate challenges with its adoption, Marshall said. "What will happen when Linux comes in to fix problems in 20 different places and then becomes unsustainable? How will the CTO break the news to the business when [he] set the expectation that Linux is free? Money never entered into the equation, and that the business would have to spend to maintain the technology."

Marshall also predicted that as CTOs aim to keep their shops a two-horse race by having Microsoft C#, J2EE, and Linux in the enterprise, they will exacerbate staffing issues. "How will you recruit top talent? At top technical universities in the United States and elsewhere, Linux is the dominate technology because [students] can tinker with it. Top developers will be incompatible with the Microsoft platform," he said.

But even with Linux being what Red Hat's vice president of product development calls the OS of choice for future technical talent, enterprise CTOs will have to rethink how they recruit future Linux-skilled workers. "How do you afford top development talent when there will be competition for them?" Marshall asked. "Interesting development 'niche businesses' will emerge. [Linux developers] are not motivated by money. You can't wave dollars at this. CTOs will have to consider how to interest top development talent," he said.

The days of salary increases and bonuses will come back, Lorentz said, who also sees the pending retirement of 50 percent of the federal government workforce in the next five years as a mixed blessing. "We'll need some retooling. We will feel some pain and will head to more outsourcing of IT," he said.

Lorentz also cited that the FEA program will impact the allocation of talent within federal agencies. "We're mapping significant investments in technology and how we will allocate human capital and large fixed assets within this construct," he said.

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