Government // Leadership
Commentary
10/4/2012
01:50 PM
John Foley
John Foley
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Obama's IT Transformation Is A Work In Progress

The president's record on IT strategy is long on vision but short on results.

InformationWeek Government - October 8, 2012
InformationWeek Green
Download the entire October 2012 issue of InformationWeek Government, distributed in an all-digital format as part of our Green Initiative
(Registration required.)

Shortly after President Obama took office, he appointed the country's first federal CTO and federal CIO and promised to use "the power of technology" to improve government operations. Has he?

As the 2012 presidential campaign heads into its final weeks, Obama's performance as an IT strategist shouldn't be ignored. It's a record--much like his presidency at large--that's long on vision but short on results.

On his first full day in office in January 2009, Obama issued a memo calling on the heads of federal agencies to "harness new technologies" to make government data more widely available. Since then, agencies have released more than 378,000 data sets, resulting in hundreds of new applications.

But there are already signs that public interest is waning. Downloads of federal data on Data.gov have trailed off, from 76,000 in September 2011 to 50,000 in August 2012. And a developer "community" created to spur activity around open data is more like a ghost town. The community's blog and online forum are inactive.

In Obama's first year, the appointments of Aneesh Chopra as federal CTO and Vivek Kundra as federal CIO met with wide approval. InformationWeek named Kundra our Chief of the Year in 2009, based on his vision for closing the government's tech gap by adopting new technologies. Kundra's sweeping 25-point IT reform plan aimed to make government more agile by breaking IT projects into more manageable pieces.

But neither Kundra, who took a high-paying job at Salesforce.com, nor Chopra, who is running for office in Virginia, stuck around long enough to see the job through. Leadership discontinuity has been a long-standing problem in federal IT, and Obama's hand-picked choices proved to be no exception.

New Ideas

The new federal CIO, Steven VanRoekel, and federal CTO, Todd Park, have stepped in with smart ideas of their own. The new Shared Services Strategy seeks to leverage shared resources and purchasing power across agencies, while the Digital Government Strategy outlines a single approach to creating content for the Web and mobile devices. But it remains to be seen just how aggressively agencies will act on those and other White House initiatives--Cloud First, TechStat, PortfolioStat, FedRAMP, and data center consolidation.

The administration gets credit for holding the line on federal IT spending. At $79 billion, the federal IT budget for fiscal 2013 is about the same as it was four years ago. That flat line is significant because federal IT spending had been rising 7% annually. The difference between what Uncle Sam would have spent had that rate continued and what it did spend is $24 billion.

The Obama team thinks its IT strategy is on the right track. In Silicon Valley last month, VanRoekel said the feds are in the process of transforming IT from a cost center to "a strategic asset." The next day, at the InformationWeek 500 Conference, where he accepted our Government Innovators Award for OMB's Shared Services Strategy, VanRoekel told me he's been traveling with Obama to brief business leaders on the work at hand.

They have a good story to tell--as far as it goes. But the transformation of federal IT, which is still plagued by inefficiencies and outdated technologies, is anything but complete. We'd love to hear what you think--is federal IT headed in the right direction? Please drop me a note at the address below.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
TonyAtHP
50%
50%
TonyAtHP,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/15/2012 | 8:45:52 PM
re: Obama's IT Transformation Is A Work In Progress
I applaud Obama for taking steps to transform government IT through the initiatives you describe, John. In my experience of consulting at high-profile IT transformation projects, it's not just about developing a smart plan that involves IT, it's mostly about knowing how to get the support of all involved--and to maintain that support. Transformation is never easy and it will always be met with resistance and suspicion. The success of transformation projects depends on your skill as a motivator and a leader--and transformation in governments is never easy.
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
InformationWeek surveyed 11,662 IT pros across 30 industries about their pay, benefits, job satisfaction, outsourcing, and more. Some of the results will surprise you.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Government Oct. 20, 2014
Energy and weather agencies are busting long-held barriers to analyzing big data. Can the feds now get other government agencies into the movement?
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and trends on InformationWeek.com
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.