03 Nov Technology leadership and increased IT project transparency, procurement and cloud computing, Interview with Fed CIO, Vivek Kundra: Part two
Editors Note: Technology leadership and increased IT project transparency and procurement processes are big concerns facing all CIOs not only in the public sector, but the private sector as well, especially in this time of flat to shrinking budgets, furloughs, and increased demands for transparency and accountability. I recently attended the Gartner Symposium IT/xpo 2009 at which the Federal CIO, Vikek Kunda addressed the role of the CIO in the public sector and provided many examples of how government IT leaders can be more responsive and innovative by utilizing technology and improved procurement processes to be more proactive and provide better and more data available to their stakeholders and the public. This is part two of a multi-part interview that is edited in which Gartner analysts, Tina Nunno and Andrea Di Maio interviewed CIO, Kundra on a wide scope of government IT projects to reduce costs, time of deployment, reduce IT failures and provide more transparency for their IT projects. Thanks for listening! Mike Klein, Editorial Director, WTN News.
Tina Nunno: What do you think are the major obstacles that keep CIOs from being successful?
Vivek Kundra: The top leadership of any organization needs to support the CIOs and making sure that the businesses are aligned and understand the value of technology. If you look at what President Obama has done, he has made technology a key priority. He appointed a CTO and CIO within the White House. That sends a very strong message across the federal government in terms of what an important role technology plays in this administration.
Tina Nunno:. What is your position on who a CIO should report to not only in the private sector but within the federal government.?
Vivek Kundra: Let’s actually go back to 1994, when there was a report issued which basically talked about billions of dollars being wasted in information technology in the government, which eventually led to the Clinger-Cohen Act. It’s a statute that stated clearly that they (Government CIOs) report to heads of agencies. From a management perspective, in the same way that the President has made technology a priority, my position is that the CIO has reported to the top leadership within the agency itself.
Andrea Di Maio: One of the key initiatives you mentioned was that cloud computing is close to your heart and your goal is fully is to modernize infrastructure, to reduce spending on infrastructure, to modernize applications and so forth. So far the focus has been on what is visible with what is being referred to as the “public cloud, ” such as Apps.gov. What solutions can federal agencies, as well those at the as state, and local level use to be transparent for the use of over $20 billion in stimulus funds? How do you see then the relationship between the vendors, who are frantically working to provide compliance instead of regulations, building private cloud and these federal entities that want to be providers as well. Is it going to be a competition or collaboration?
Vivek Kundra: One of the things we have to do is recognize that the federal government has different classes of information and that there’s huge potential for the public sector to be able to leverage innovation that’s happening in the consumer’s space.
There is a set of data information and work flows that could easily be moved towards the consumer cloud, but the government, also has information that’s classified in nature or is sensitive and must live on government owned, government operated infrastructure. We also have to recognize that the amount of money that federal government spends on grants, and I can speak from my experience, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where we would get funding from Department of Education let’s say or Department of Transportation and HHS, but we’re not able to really leverage resources across the board. Now imagine unemployment insurance systems or imagine other systems within state and local governments where we could also create as you said, a community based cloud. We see opportunities developed for the consumer space, for information that’s not sensitive in nature, second, we see an opportunity within the federal government from information that maybe classified or sensitive in nature, and third, we see an opportunity in collaboration between states and local governments.
Tina Nunno: The federal IT budget is $76 billion, it is quite a significant investment in IT. What would you like to see vendors do differently to make it easier for governments and even private sectors players who work with them to be more effective? Vendor contracts can be a challenge. What can CIOs do to work better with vendors?
Vivek Kundra: If we look at the eco system which is the public sector, the vendors themselves, the contracting officers, one of the biggest challenges we see is when it comes down to contracting, you end up with this cost plus contract versus fixed price contract .In a lot of cases what we’ve seen is promises that are made, over promises around the potential of technology, what it can potentially do and meeting specific deadlines.
One of the reasons we launched the IT dashboard, was to be able to lift the veil of secrecy, to lift the veil around what’s happening with IT dollars, what’s happening with tax payer dollars that are being spent. As you said, $76 billion is being spent annually, who is spending it, how are they being spending it, and what are the results?
If you look at what happened at the veteran’s administration, the IT dashboard showed, there were 45 IT projects that were halted .One of those projects was a 110% over budget and it was over a year-and-a-half behind schedule.
What we need to be able to do is, when the vendors come in and they’re bidding on these projects and they’re making their pitches, is for them to be intellectually honest about the potential of those technologies. The business development strategy sometimes turns out to be, bid on the original project, but the real strategy is around change orders. We saw that happen with the Census Bureau and the handheld devices that ended up failing in terms of the IT project itself. We want to make sure that there is an honest upfront dialogue around that, but secondly, making sure also from the government’s side, it’s not a one-sided equation. The public sector needs to be responsible as far as clearly defining requirements upfront and taking the ownership and leadership to hold vendors accountable for performance.
Tina Nunno: I’m a big fan of the two-way street, right, and so when you talk about the vendors being a little bit more transparent are you thinking of a vendor-IT dashboard?
Vivek Kundra: Well its actually part of the IT dashboard, one of the things we have done is not only have we put the picture of every CIO in the federal government there, next to the name of the project, whether its behind schedule or over budget, but we’ve also put the contract online.. You can actually see the contract and you can see all the task orders against that contract. So the approach we took was to focus on the entire ecosystem and not just on one part because it’s very easy to get into finger pointing rather than giving it a root cause of what the real problem is.
Tina Nunno Do you want to see more transparency and better contract terms with vendors, ideally, what kind of partnerships do you want to see going forward?
Vivek Kundra: What we want to be able to do is make sure, before we even get into new vendor partnerships is to make sure that there is a fundamental realignment of how we buy IT. A larger problem is when we look at the federal government’s 932 plus datacenters there are many contracts and the relationships that you end up having is that majority of them are focused on trying to get the perfect relationship and outcomes, but not focus on the real problem. That is the first order for us to lift up and that’s one of the reasons we’re very much focused on cloud computing, to update and replace the underlying infrastructure, so we can focus on higher order problems and business problems that federal agencies face.
In terms of the types of relationships we want to make sure that there is radical transparency around how we procure IT and making sure that there is a cultural shift as far as tax payer dollars are concerned. The American people have a right to see how their dollars are being spent and they have a right to audit on a real time basis, how contracts are being run.
Andrea Di Maio: There is one prediction the government says that by 2012, up to one in five down processes, will rely critically on the cloud. How do you plan to grasp this opportunity for transparency in terms of how should government use that information what are the rules of the game?
Vivek Kundra: I think as the President has said, he is a big believer and part of what happened with Data.gov launch was his belief that we could tap into the ingenuity of the American people to solve some of the most difficult problems we face. And we believe that, as you look at platforms and this administration Data.gov serves as a platform that doesn’t filter the data, it provides it in its raw format. And through competitions, such as the one that the Sunlight Foundation launched, which challenged the United States, the citizens of the United States to go out there and innovate on top of this platform. What we saw was within a period of couple of days, an individual who created an application called FlyOnTime.us and what this application did is it essentially allows people like you and I to look online and see the average delays times of flights from one airport to the other and also wait times at airports.
We also saw another application that allowed you to actually see toxic release levels in your neighborhood through data that the EPA was provided. So there was a huge opportunity here to be able to not just limit the innovation that can happen within the public sector for the American people, just within the walls of the federal government, but to really amplify that and engage and move away from this notion of thinking about the American people a subject, but really thinking about the American people as co-creators and really helping shape democracies as we move forward.
Read interview part one: Related Story: