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Feds Draw Lessons From Private Sector IT

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said the government must innovate by borrowing best practices from the private sector during a panel discussion at the InformationWeek Government IT Leadership Forum.

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Federal IT leaders need to leverage best practices not only from other agencies, but they also need to take some cues from the private sector, federal CIO Vivek Kundra said during a keynote panel Thursday with the CIOs of Sunoco, FedEx, and United Stationers at the InformationWeek Government IT Leadership Forum.

"We need to move away from the victim mentality that we've seen in government, where we always say why we can't do these things," Kundra said, pointing to big pushes the administration has made in areas like cloud computing and improving customer service as examples of government accomplishment despite bureaucratic and fiscal challenges.

Kundra said the government needs to become a much more agile enterprise and invest in cost-saving and productivity-increasing technologies like cloud, mobile, and business intelligence. Those technologies continue to make waves, and the government needs to figure out how it can better use them to communicate with and serve the American public.

It's not that the private sector has all the answers--in fact, far from it, said Rob Carter, CIO of FedEx. "Take heart that everyone out there is fighting the same battle," he said. However, with a wide productivity gap between the public and private sector, there are plenty of lessons the government could learn.

For example, United Stationers CIO Dave Bent said in response to remarks by Kundra about the persistent existence of multi-year mega-projects in government, "I had a boss that once told me, if any project is longer than the lifetime of a small mammal, we probably shouldn't start it. Constancy in purpose is really important, but you need to ask, how do we create these things in small steps."

In a meeting at the White House the day before the forum, Kundra and several other federal government CIOs met with a half dozen private sector CIOs in an effort to hash out solutions to some of their common challenges. They tried to identify the next wave of big IT trends that the government and private enterprise will need to confront, from cloud computing to client virtualization to application stores.

President Obama last week issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to draw up customer service plans that take the best practices from the private sector and apply them to "deliver services better, faster, and at a lower cost," adding an extra impetus behind Kundra's comments.

Customer service has never been the strong suit of the federal government, but Sunoco CIO Peter Whatnell had some advice for federal CIOs grappling with an open government directive and Obama's new customer service executive order. "You need to understand, what is your mission, what are your customers looking for, and then think about how you can align your IT to address that," he said.

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