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“Being a social CIO allows you to have open conversations about where the organization is going and what it is trying to achieve.”
Dr David Bray, CIO of the US Federal Communications Commission
Why it’s important for IT leaders to be social CIOs
Image: Matthew Stylianou
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Why it’s important for IT leaders to be social CIOs

Kenny MacIver – September 2015
In an era of exponential change, government IT leaders need to use social media to stimulate a dialogue with — and draw ideas from — the public, says Dr David Bray, CIO of the US Federal Communications Commission.

Even more than their counterparts in business, today’s public sector CIOs should regard engagement on social media as a vital part in their new armoury rather than a source of professional risk — not just to communicate the challenges their organizations’ face, but to tap into innovative thinking and to project the successes of their teams

“It’s important to be a social CIO,” argues Dr David Bray, CIO at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US agency that oversees the country’s TV, radio, cable and satellite activities across states and internationally. “The world is changing so quickly, both in terms of technology and society, that none of us have all the answers. So by being online — whether on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social channels — you can begin to share ideas and learn from others.”

Bray points to a flow of input he receives via social platforms from associates in the private sector, the IT industry and colleagues within other public sector agencies, as well as from the consumers of public services. “The public often have great ideas about how we can make public service better.  And being receptive to that is an important part of being a public servant,” he highlights.

Social media is also an appropriate platform for showcasing the activities and mission of the organization, he says. “You can share what you’re doing and where you’re going,” he outlines — and how fast you can get there. “That’s particularly important in the public sector because we are not in a position to show dramatic change overnight; for example, to get rid of our legacy systems that in many cases are required by law.”

So, says Bray, there’s an important opportunity to use social media to set realistic expectations with the public that highlight that the organization is trying to change as fast as it can while still recognizing the different responsibilities it has to fulfill.

Social animal

When Bray took on the top IT position at the FCC two years ago, one of his first initiatives was to propose the use of a Twitter handle. Although approval for @fcc_cio was far from automatic and scepticism about its value high, the imperative was “to have those conversations about where we’re going and what we’re trying to achieve.”

Being a social CIO might seem like an unnecessary exposure for someone in public service, he says, but in an era when digital-driven change is exponential in the business and consumer environment, the public sector simply cannot be left behind. If customer expectations are to connect to services anytime, anywhere and on any device, for example, government agencies need to support that

And that means being bolder and more experimental, he argues. “I have served in both the public and the private sector, and I find that there’s a naturally strong incentive in the public sector to avoid taking visible risk. So another part of why I’m on social media is to actually have that conversation about how, in an exponential age, we have to do experiments, we have to take risks, to learn when things don't work out rather than never taking risk at all. I think it’s important for us to step outside of [previous] expectations and have that dialogue openly and honestly with the public, and to learn from each other.”

First published
September 2015
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About: Dr David Bray
A leading figure in US crisis response and intelligence R&D, Bray is the CIO of the Federal Communications Commission and former IT chief of the US Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program. He has also served in Afghanistan as a senior strategic adviser on humanitarian and defense issues.
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