In the military, they are called two-hatters: officers with two jobs. But you’ll also find civilian agency two hatters.
Chuck Christopherson at the Agriculture Department is one such hybrid. He’s the chief information officer and the chief financial officer. With those two hats, you might think Christopherson simply has meetings with himself to decide IT spending priorities.
But it’s not quite that simple.
Having a single CIO/CFO “strengthens the priorities on both sides,” Christopherson says. “Often, in the financial side, if there’s a vacuum, support of IT becomes weak.” If there’s a vacuum on the IT side, the tech folks may find they are not getting the funding they need “and not understand why.”
As a dual hatter, Christopherson tends to delegate day-to-day activities to the deputies, but is not above reaching down into the ranks to operate at a more detailed level when necessary.
In effect running IT and finances for what he describes as the world’s eighth largest bank, Christopherson says he finds advantages in having the two functions work closely together. Being in the loans, grants and insurance business, the CIO/CFO combine has focused on IT-enabled process quality improvement according to the so-called Six Sigma philosophy.
Five major projects concern establishing departmentwide standard processes for invoicing, grants, loans, insurance issuance and geospatial information systems. “So USDA will have one process for the whole department, with minor variations,” Christopherson says. He expects the effort to start saving the department $20 million per year, all resulting from finance and IT teams working together.
Christopherson is pushing change throughout USDA process owners. He is also sending large groups for training in project and change management at the department’s school in Greenbelt, Md. By the end of this year, he hopes 130 people will have been trained in the art and science of overhauling business processes.