istock 930881922

US Federal Government CIO Suzette Kent believes CIOs must have a seat at the top table to reflect their accountability for the success or failure of high-level initiatives within various government agencies.

Kent, appointed by Donald Trump in January 2018, is the fourth person to hold the Federal CIO position for the United States. She was speaking recently in a keynote address at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington when she pointed out the disparity between the amount of responsibility shouldered by CIOs and the degree of authority they wield to execute their objectives to the highest standard.

"Memos from the Office of Management and Budget and acts of Congress recently mandated that the CIO is accountable, and in some of the legislation it specifically says responsibility for failure," said Kent.

"So the accountability is there, but the second part of the equation is authority, and we're still working on that. We're still working on empowering CIOs with the full authority to effect the outcomes for which we're holding them accountable."

Kent is looking for the US government to give greater powers to CIOs when it comes to managing their own budgets, acquisitions and hiring, as well as facilitating greater collaboration across the board with other high level government agents.

"Recently - and very positively - we've seen more CIOs move to direct reporting relationships with agency leadership, but we need to continue that," she said. "We need to close the gap between the people who are setting the vision and the people who have to deliver on that vision - the people who are owning the tools to make that vision happen."

Kent pointed out that previously the CIO position was tasked with maintaining IT infrastructure ('keeping the lights on'), rather than being crucial to the delivery of business objectives.

However, the scope of the CIO role is broadening. The US government is a unique body, but there is a similar transformation for the CIO role in organisations everywhere, reflecting the increasingly digital-first world.

Kent made reference to private companies which are currently more progressive when it comes to including the CIO in the boardroom, reflecting their greater role in business rather than solely IT operations.

"CIOs are expected not only to have technology skills, but they have to be leaders, and they have to have a broad set of management capabilities," she said. "In [the] private sector, the role of the CIO has already evolved. CIOs are part of the leadership team, particularly in mature organisations and organisations where they know the technology capabilities are very critical to how they connect to their customers and how their products get out the door. That role has changed."