Office of the Chief Information Officer

United States Department of Agriculture

CIO Corner


 President Barack Obama signs the Agricultural Act of 2014 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. OCIO, the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) and Agency Participation

Several weeks ago, Deputy Secretary Harden during one of our off-site meetings, encouraged us to select a word and make that our “theme” for 2014. Her word is Focus.  In his 2013 book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman identifies particular challenges we face in gaining and maintaining focus when managing complex systems like the Information Technology (IT) systems that support mission delivery at USDA: “systems are virtually invisible to the naked eye, but their workings can be rendered visible by gathering data from enough points that the outlines of their dynamics come into focus.”

The goal and objective of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) is to provide USDA Agencies with the information they need to be mission Focused and to work as a partner to deliver the services associated with the Farm Bill.

The OCIO is a group of strategic consultants who are experts in aligning IT with the mission.  System changes, for example, require approval by OCIO and the concurrence of our E-Board after review for compliance with statutory and legal requirements.  Engaging with OCIO early, we can coordinate with the agency CIOs to determine if Farm Bill implementation will dramatically affect existing systems or require new ones.  OCIO can help this process go smoothly and efficiently. We serve as strategic business advisors that will help to keep implementation goals from becoming complicated by Government IT processes.  In other words, allowing the Agency to focus on implementation and leaving IT to us.    Additionally, given the Secretary’s commitment to transparency in how we implement the Farm Bill, OCIO will be an excellent source of Open Government when new rules are formulated and circulated for public comment.  With the Forest Service “planning rule” several years ago, OCIO worked concurrently with the official rulemaking notice and the public comment process of the Federal Register to save time and money.  

Engaging with OCIO early will:

  • Ensure compliance
  • Reduce duplication
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Strengthen the business process and increase speed to market

From our experiences in 2013, we know that there are many duplicative efforts. Maintaining a bird’s eye view, we can help foster collaboration and suggest opportunities for shared services on things like web portals, cloud computing, software licensing and training, which will reduce costs so Agencies can re-invest in their business.

Through our Strategic Consulting and Alignment model, we eliminate boundaries between business and IT.  In OCIO’s model, people from business and IT all take part in the execution of all Farm Bill initiatives. The agency program managers perform the day-to-day, functional governance, with advice and/or oversight from OCIO, for business as well as IT. While we still have an IT department, the responsible people unite in one of these programs and in many cases with commercial suppliers as well to deliver the results Agencies need. We used to talk about projects, due dates, milestones, etc. Now, we’re talking about capabilities and business benefits. Not “the project is important,” but what the project is supposed to deliver and supposed to change within the organization. Effective alignment is predicated on the combination of prescient planning and the effective execution of those plans.

The concept of value creation through technology is heavily dependent upon the alignment of technology and business strategies. While the value creation for an organization is a network of relationships between internal and external environments, technology plays an important role in improving the overall value chain of an organization. However, this increase requires business and technology management to work as a creative, synergistic, and collaborative team instead of a purely mechanistic span of control. Together business units and technology can help the organization recognize improved effectiveness and efficiencies within the Department and generate superior performance at a greater value. 

Joyce M. Hunter
Deputy CIO, Policy and Planning