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Wanted: Project Managers

And other highlights of a meeting with the CIO of USA Inc.

The other day I had the privilege of meeting with Mark Forman, associate director of information technology and e-Government for the Office of Management and Budget. It’s a fancy title for what Forman translates as the CIO of the federal government. One of the refreshing things about Forman is he is a career technologist with stints at IBM and Unisys, not a career bureaucrat. So he takes a very businesslike approach to his job. This approach involves justifying all new technology investments in terms of the business process they are supposed to support. Because the government has so many agencies with overlapping and sometimes conflicting goals, the business-process approach will tend to eliminate waste and make for a much more efficient use of information technology resources. Most important, if business processes drive technology adoption, technology will more effectively support these processes.

As you might imagine, Forman has a vast system of these business processes in his brain, many of which involve stitching together the various departments and agencies that now form the Department of Homeland Security. The stacks of white papers and reports on his desk leave little room for anything else. These stacks form a subtle reminder of the daunting task before him to build architectures to support the integration of the various departments. I will talk to him again about many of these tasks in our May Q&A, especially as they relate to our main topic in that issue–information security. Here I just want to highlight one of the challenges the government faces in the very near future: recruitment.

While it is hard to get jobs in IT these days, project managers and lead architecture analysts are in short supply. This should not be surprising to regular readers. Engineers and other technologists typically don’t like to manage, they like to produce. And the fact that 70 percent of IT projects fail (by many estimates) implies that project managers have a thankless job. But the 70 percent statistic also underscores the need for people who can sort out all the business process, political, and cultural, and people issues and still get the job done. Systems architects are a bit more abundant, but they too need to manage, which is anathema to technologists.

That you know. What you may not know is that the federal government will experience mass retirements of its IT managers in the next few years. Most of the talent that was hired in the ’60s and early ’70s will go away over the next decade. And there is not a very large pool from which to draw to promote from within. The ’80s are known for a hiring freeze, and the ’90s involved more cutting than hiring. So there just is not a lot of management-level talent coming up through the ranks, meaning that the government will have to hire thousands of project managers and architecture analysts over the next several years from outside the ranks. Add to this the relative scarcity of these folks and increasing budgets for information security and e-Government and we’re headed for crisis.

The crisis can be avoided, however. One thing I’ve found in my years of covering the issues technologists face is they tend to be highly adaptable. If they know opportunities will exist in the near future, they will take the necessary training to take advantage of those opportunities. And training organizations will find ways of training people for the emerging opportunities. In fact, because of the scarcity of good project managers, dozens of solid training providers already offer Project Management Institute-approved training tracks. And thousands of experienced technologists are out of work in this country, looking for any available opportunity. In the last three months, we have received dozens of letters from highly skilled technologists looking for work. Most of them were “downsized” when their companies “outsourced” their jobs to India (that’s a story for another column). It seems the more experience they have, the harder it is for them to find work. Well, I have a message for these folks: Uncle Sam wants you to help him develop the information systems of the future; and training is readily available.

James Mathewson is editor of ComputerUser magazine and ComputerUser.com

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