Federal CIOs need to seek out soft skills, experts recommend

IT services are a critical component of the federal government's operations. Agencies need to leverage such resources effectively in order to meet their goals on-time and under budget. Just as importantly, departments must seek out the personnel who are best able to leverage these assets.

Recently, a panel of CIOs and federal managers argued that agencies need to expand their IT recruitment to professionals with soft skills, not just technical capabilities, CIO reported. Soft skills are becoming increasingly important in the federal IT space, particularly as cloud integration continues to gain momentum.

Soft skills needed
At first, it may seem counterintuitive for federal CIOs to concern themselves with their employees' soft skills, as these appear less relevant for IT service management and related issues. As the panelists argued, though, the changing nature of federal technology usage demands a similar shift among personnel.

Daniel Ash, CIO at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told the news source that soft skills are more difficult to inculcate than technical prowess.

"You can teach people technical skills. But I also very strongly value the softer skills, both the managers as well as the staff. They work in teams, they work collaboratively. They have to be able to listen," said Ash, according to the news source.

Critically, Scott Cameron, executive advisor at an IT consulting firm, pointed to the growing frequency of government IT outsourcing to private-sector cloud vendors as a key driver of soft skill requirements, CIO noted. He explained that when federal professionals engage with these third parties, they require consultative abilities to achieve their objectives. Technical abilities, while important, lose some of their significance as cloud services come to the forefront.

"You're not going to be able to own lock, stock and barrel your IT systems anymore," he noted, the source reported.

"If you're a CIO and you want to get the most out of your contractors, it really helps to understand how contractors think," he added.

Such personal skills can help federal employees to not only choose the right cloud services, but also work effectively with vendors to address new needs as time goes on and government IT requirements evolve.

Pursuing the cloud
While this doesn't mean that technical skills are no longer relevant for federal IT departments, it does suggest a need to refocus priorities, especially among CIOs and other management-level personnel. As Cameron noted, these higher-ranking leaders tend to struggle to remain on the cutting edge of technology anyway, as their efforts become predominantly focused on administrative responsibilities. He noted that this happens in both the public and private sector, the news source reported.

As cloud computing continues to grow in importance for federal agencies, this trend is likely to become more pronounced. Increased cloud integration across the government will demand a higher level of interaction with cloud services providers and related third parties.

This significance of soft skills in relation to cloud integration can be seen in regard to the issue of "provider sprawl." As a separate CIO report noted, many U.S. CIOs currently recognize the potential value offered by the cloud, but are not taking steps to actually embrace these solutions. In many cases, this hesitation is due to the fact that there are too many cloud service options for CIOs to effectively evaluate. Many are confused as to their responsibilities in a given cloud context. 

This suggests that CIOs must do a better job not only of understanding the cloud, but of working directly with third-party consultants to develop robust, effective cloud migration strategies.