As first reported by the New York Times, the newly appointed US Federal CIO, replacing Vivek Kundra, is Steve VanRoekel, who joined the Federal Communications Commission as managing director in June 2009 after more than a decade at Microsoft.
I never had the pleasure to meet or speak to Steve, but reports about FCC’s accomplishments on both open government and cloud computing – both key pillars in his predecessor’s activity – are impressive.
At face value, he looks like a wise choice to fill Vivek’s shoes: he understands technology and the business of technology, has pursued the use of open source software at FCC (hence cleaning his record as a former Microsoft executive for those who still see the Redmond company as the enemy of open source), and has had a prominent business position in the current administration.
On the downside, he has not been running IT (or IT-intensive businesses) in a large agency or department, which is where most of the turf battles as well as potential savings will happen. While Vivek built a vision for transformation and innovation in government IT, the challenges are now in executing on that vision, in moving open government from a nice-to-have to a must-have, in shifting the use of cloud from the edges to the core of the government enterprise. This will take a lot of diplomacy and his past experience in industry may help, although he may still need some time (and solid advice from his staff) to grasp with the complexity of much larger agencies than the one he has been part of.
In my humble opinion, his greatest challenge will be to turn Vivek’s suggestions into an indispensible weaponry for agencies and departments to weather the challenging times ahead. To succeed, he will need to pick few battles to win, rather than try to fight them all. Ironically, the difficult economic and financial situation and the threats to the sustainability of government services and operations could be his best allies to deliver on the IT innovation agenda of the current administration.