GCIO Focus: Measure the Wrong Things, Get the Wrong Outcomes

Strategic planning processes CIOs follow don’t focus on delivering world-class customer experience.

Across the government ecosystem, there’s talk about focusing on business/mission outcomes and customer needs for designing and delivering services to citizens. These messages are not new; they come from the White House, Congress, agencies and government contractors — all hailing the need to shift the primary focus from the back end — improving efficiency to the front end — customer needs.

So why does the government still provide the “worst of the worst customer experiences”

Reasons vary, but from the vantage point of the government chief information officer community, two issues stand out. First, the strategic planning processes CIOs follow don’t focus on delivering world-class customer experience. Second, the measurements of success for CIO don't consider whether the right services are delivered and delivered well and almost entirely focus on things like the efficiency, cost savings and timeliness of project delivery.   

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Let’s look at the first issue, strategic planning. While it varies from organization to organization which issues impede the development of more customer outcome-oriented strategic planning, the following are the most notable ones:

  • Lack of collaboration with business stakeholders in developing the strategy. While exceptions exist, strategy development by CIOs remains an exercise more siloed and technology oriented than integrated with and reflective of the business/mission objectives or the organization.

  • Strategic planning remains a very project-based endeavor. The planning is very traditional, linear and internally focused. This type of planning can be very effective in driving cost savings and efficiency, but it is not optimal for delivering the agile and adaptive services that drive customer experience improvement and engagement outside the organization and with employees.

  • Strategic plans are not designed around the customer journey, which involves focusing on the delivery of service(s) from across the organization.  Rather, CIO strategic plans detail what IT is doing and stand separate from or loosely connected to stakeholder’s business plans.

Not surprisingly, when we turn to how CIOs are measured, the measurements reflect the issues above. CIO performance is primarily measured by project performance, individually and collectively. According to the IT Dashboard, “the Agency Chief Information Officer (CIO) rates each investment based on his or her best judgment, using a set of pre-established criteria.”

The above mentioned criteria are risk management, requirements management, contractor oversight, historical performance and other. While they exist in many project plans and objectives, the words customer, service, business, etc. are not even mentioned in any of the standard goals or measures.

Government and CIOs need to transition to using measures focused on the value and quality of the services being delivered. These are not simply satisfaction surveys and collecting other feedback but rather programs that directly tie what CIOs are delivering to customer/business outcomes.  

With those types of measures in place for all stakeholders, strategies and plans integrated and centered on customer value can be developed and adjusted over time to get there. As the legendary management consultant and creator of management by objectives Peter Drucker said, “if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” The first step to really moving the needle in delivering better business results and customer experiences and engagement is to measure the right things well.    

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