New Approaches To Government IT

The job of CIO in government has become more challenging and more visible. InformationWeek Government recently hosted the Government IT Leadership Forum, where more than a dozen CIOs and CTOs shared their strategies. Here are highlights from the event.
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The job of CIO in federal government has become more challenging and more visible. Uncle Sams top IT decision makers are looking to secure systems, improve project performance, and deliver new services in an era of open government. On June 15, InformationWeek hosted the Government IT Leadership Forum in Washington, where more than a dozen CIOs and CTOs shared their strategies on these and other priorities. Here are highlights from the event.

Tackling The Tough Issues Head On

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra gave the opening keynote atInformationWeek's Government IT Leadership Forum. Following is an except from his speech.

People can go online using consumer technologies, and they're able to conduct their day-to-day activities in a manner that's almost frictionless. Yet when it comes to dealing with their government, we tend to take them back a decade or two or three. This gap in technology, unfortunately, is a result of the federal government focusing in the wrong areas in terms of the investments that we've been making.

Part of what we're trying to do in the Obama administration is bring the Darwinian pressure that's apparent and present in the consumer space to federal government. How do we innovate? How do we deploy technology? How do we make sure that it doesn't take years in terms of rolling out some of these innovations?

We've begun that journey. There are a number of success stories across federal government where great work is happening. We just announced a simple move by the Department of Treasury, essentially going paperless, saving hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years. More importantly, it's also going to prevent fraud on an ongoing basis.

Across the federal government, what we've seen, as a function of heavy investments, is that people have tried to address this problem over the last 50 years. There have been OMB memos and legislation. It's not because of a lack of investments. We've spent as a federal government over $500 billion [on IT] over the last decade, yet too many times we end up with large-scale IT failures.

For far too long, what ends up happening is we throw good money after bad money. When IT managers across the federal government begin to make investments, one of the challenges is that long procurement cycles and complexity lead managers to oversize the IT project. Once that project is oversized, new stakeholders are brought in, which leads to exponential complexity in terms of requirements and definition.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra
Time to get tough on agencies and contractors that don't deliver results, Kundra says
Photo by Wordbiz,
Then, when the project isn't working well, you end up having more oversight, which ends up generating more paperwork, and more research is expended on overhead rather than solving the root cause of the problem itself. We've seen this across the board, and what we've tried to do is convene the brightest minds across the country. The president in January invited top CEOs across the private sector to a summit in the White House to talk about how the government can apply some of the best practices in the private sector. A number of themes emerged; key was to simplify, making sure that we have smaller time frames for deliverables.

As I've been looking at federal IT investments across the board, we've found investments where people have spent five to seven years essentially blueprinting, and what you end up with are architectural documents that nobody really implements. There's also a challenge when it comes to human capital, as far as making sure we've got the right talent in federal government to make sure that these complex agreements and contracts are actually managed well.

We decided to take this issue head-on from an execution perspective. When I came in, one of the first things I received was a document that contained over $27 billion of IT investments that were over budget or behind schedule. We decided to say, "We can't manage this when we look at these investments once a year."

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