Mobile technology has joined cybersecurity, controlling costs, human capital and central agency policy on the list of top concerns that keep federal chief information officers awake at night, according to a newly-released survey of federal chief information officers released today by the trade group TechAmerica.

Based on in-depth interviews with more than 40 federal CIOs and their deputies, the latest annual survey finds that cybersecurity ranks as the Number 1 concern for CIOs this year, even as budget constraints now dictate how CIOs are moving forward to meet agency IT demands.

That view was reiterated by several federal CIOs from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce, Veterans Administration and other who spoke Thursday during a day-long forum in Washington surrounding the report’s release.

The number of cybersecurity incidents affecting federal organizations has grown eight-fold since fiscal year 2006, to more than 40,000 incidents a year, and have become an every day occurrence, according to the report, citing data from the Government Accountability Office. Allocating resources to address those concerns is an ongoing challenge, however.

Every CIO knows that their network has been breached and the adversaries are in the network.”

“Most major data breaches have come from inside, yet most of our resources are directed at outsider threats,” said one unidentified CIO quoted in the report’s findings. The sophistication of network breaches however continues to escalate, however.

“Let me blunt,” said Veterans Administration CIO Roger Baker, speaking on the topic at the TechAmerica event. “Every CIO knows that their network has been breached and the adversaries are in the network. We live in that world. IT’s job is to a corral those breaches and minimize their impact.

The Big Squeeze

Government agency IT investments to address those and other needs, meanwhile, have remained virtually flat since FY 2006, and began declining in fiscal 2010.

Consequently, CIOs reported that controlling IT costs has become their Number 1 management objective.

The magnitude of concern about cost control has clearly risen from concerns expressed in 2011’s survey, where CIOs were focused on IT acquisition, project management and IT consolidation issues, as well as cybersecurity and reducing costs.

This year, CIO’s said that there other major objectives included: rationalizing and centralizing IT services; introducing new technology (that can reduce costs); modernizing IT systems and improving IT governance portfolio management.

Defense Department CIO Terri Takai and Homeland Security CIO Richard Spires (pictured above) elaborated on the report’s conclusions during a luncheon panel discussion.

“The impact of mobility is really a major challenge” for the Defense Department, Takai said, noting “there are more than 50 pilot projects trying to get (smartphones) and tablets to work in you-name-the-environment.”

Another challenge, she said is reconciling DoD’s mobile strategy with the Office of Management and Budget’s federal mobility strategy, while also dealing with the need to treat unclassified and classified data separately.

“On the classified side, it’s not only the devices,” DoD needs to deal with, but also “the network side,” she said.

Spires acknowledged that CIOs are in a tremendous “squeeze” heading into fiscal year 2014 budget planning.

“There’s not just a lot of discretionary dollars available,” he said. “A lot of our cost basis is tied up in our workforce. So IT tends to be one of those things that really gets hammered,” he said.

VA’s Baker provided an example of how CIOs are tackling cost control concerns, pointing to VA’s efforts to abandon personal desktop printers. Baker said it costs 4 1/2 times more to use and support a desktop printer compared a network printer. At 9 cents per page versus 2 cents per page, multiplied times 150,000 desktop printers, the savings are significant, he said.

The larger issue, though, he said, is the challenge of getting investment dollars to achieve bigger savings.

“It can take hundreds of millions of dollars in technology investments to save tens of billions of
dollars” at organizations like VA.

While mobile technology offers new opportunities to improve productivity at lower costs, CIOs say that new budget constraints are making it harder to incorporate mobile technology advances in government.

Mobile Is More Than Gadgets

CIOs interviewed for the survey stressed that mobility “is not a gadget-buying exercise.”

Rather, mobility “changes how, where and when people work,” said George DelPrete, principal, Grant Thornton, which supported the survey.

Probed about their strategies and concerns for mobility this year, federal CIOs said they are trying to leverage existing applications and technology before developing new ones from scratch. Many CIOS feel there are still too many applications.

CIOs also said that one of the underlying goals of any mobile strategy is the need to integrate all IT capabilities. But that integration is also an opportunity to “clean up” IT capabilities and tear down IT silos government wide, CIO’s said.

That vision will also likely mean that mobile technology will continue to evolve much more rapidly than government agencies will be able to take advantage of.

“We’re going to be behind on mobility for the rest of our natural lives,” lamented Baker about the pace of adoption in government, in spite of the progress departments like VA have made in using mobile technology.

The full report from TechAmerica’s 22nd Annual Survey Of Federal Chief Information Officers, entitled “Fiscal Constraints and Future Challenges – Driving Innovation at the CIO Level” is available here.