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Federal CIO Kundra Talks IT Strategy

Nine months into the job, Vivek Kundra discusses IT initiatives, the path ahead, and challenges in driving the Obama Administration's 'open government' agenda.

InformationWeek: Will we have fewer data centers? Is that a goal?

Kundra: We'll be announcing our cloud computing strategy shortly, and data centers will be a part of that. We can't continue proliferating data centers at the rate we've been. What you have to do is look at the root cause of the proliferation--part of it is that we haven't really led with delivery of services or platforms. The idea is to create government-wide platforms, whether they're on data or travel or collaboration.

InformationWeek: Who will manage those platforms?

Kundra: GSA is the agency we're working closely with. The key is not to just call anything a platform, but to architect it from the ground up to scale on demand. The failings when you look at lines of business historically are that they've been engineered without the ability to scale.

InformationWeek: How do you make sure that you aren't turning these platforms into big, monolithic projects that are extremely costly? Won't there have to be some big capital costs to start?

Kundra: There are going to be some capital costs required as you scale them and as you go buy new services, but we want to make sure there's a model where they create value and agencies move to services where there's the most value. In going back to the cloud computing strategy, that's one of the reasons we're pushing in this direction, to make sure that we're leveraging technologies that are going to not just lower costs of government operations but provide better service.

The third area as we look at things we've done is around Cyberscope. Cyberscope is a platform that we launched to move us away from thinking about cybersecurity in quarterly and annual reports. How do we move towards an analytical model where we can see the threat, address the threat and have real-time dashboards that will actually not just give us insight and intelligence, but the ability to act?

InformationWeek: How much of your time do you spend on cybersecurity?

Kundra: The terrain is so broad. The federal government does not play in a vacuum: 70% of the infrastructure that we use is in private hands. A big challenge is coordinating all those pieces and making sure that we're being effective in our responses. I spend a significant amount of my time making sure that we're creating an environment that's secure across the federal government.

InformationWeek: Can you give us a sense of how much of federal IT work is outsourced?

Kundra: A significant part of the more complex technology projects tend to be contracted, and the reason there is a lot of them tend to be short term, and it would be more costly if you had to think about a permanent workforce overseeing those initiatives. But what is happening is, because of the delays in delivery, because of the cost overruns, we need to make sure that we're being vendor accountable. At the same time, we need to make sure that the government is doing a good job in defining its requirements up front, but also being very, very specific in what it is we want to contract for and doing it in smaller chunks, so you can have models that come together architecturally, and you can hold people accountable for delivering on specific projects.

InformationWeek: When you talk about modularizing IT procurement and projects, how do you do that?

Kundra: We had a summit with the federal CIOs where we brought them together and talked about best practices. Going back to the philosophy of execution and making sure that we're getting things done, VA CIO Roger Baker shared his best practices, and DoD folks shared what they were doing, HUD looked at what was happening. They're meeting regularly in terms of figuring out how they ensure that as they're defining requirements in a manner that's manageable, that has good oversight, that exercises good judgment, so that when projects aren't going well, we're either divesting, consolidating, or turning around. That we're being very active at how we're managing across the board. The key there is that best practices are now being shared across the CIO Council.

InformationWeek: How do you take it from something that not just that the VA is going to follow, but other agencies will be able to follow?

Kundra: We recognize a DOD project is not exactly the same as a Health and Human Services project. So, how do you take key principles--that's what the CIO Council is focused on right now--and apply them while at the same time recognizing that because their missions are so different, and their customers in some ways are very different, that we engineer and architect for success. We don't want to come up with some broad, general policy that OMB will issue in a memo that may be written theoretically, but one that's grounded in reality, been debated vigorously, and that's going to be executed against.

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