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Vivek Kundra’s Resume: Much Ado About Nothing?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  August 14, 2009  |  10 Comments

Over the last two days, the blogosphere has witnessed an interesting debate about whether Vivek Kundra’s resume is entirely accurate and sufficient for his current role as U.S. Federal CIO. It all started with a blog post by John Dvorak, where he casted doubts about Vivek’s academic achievements and his experience outside the public sector, followed by a post by Gauthan Nagesh on NextGov, shedding light on Vivek’s academic records and challenging Dvorak’s positions. It is quite intriguing to look at comments on either blog, as well as on many other blogs and online articles (just search for “Vivek Kundra qualifications” and you’ll find quite a lot).

Besides observing that politics are the same pretty much anywhere, with political appointees being regularly targeted by their opponents, the press and more recently by blogs (quite ironic in Vivek’s case, as he is a fervent believer in the power of Web 2.0), I am not really interested in whether these allegations are founded or not.

What I am more interested in is the fundamental question behind much of these discussions, i.e. is he qualified for the job at hand? In order to answer this question one has to looks at (1) the exact job description and (2) his achievements in related positions.

As far as (1), the job description in the White House’s announcement of Vivek’s  appointment was:

The Federal Chief Information Officer directs the policy and strategic planning of federal information technology investments and is responsible for oversight of federal technology spending.  The Federal CIO establishes and oversees enterprise architecture to ensure system interoperability and information sharing and ensure information security and privacy across the federal government.  The CIO will also work closely with the Chief Technology Officer to advance the President’s technology agenda

Words are important here. He is not responsible for the federal IT budget (agencies are), but for its oversight. He directs policies and planning in order to advance the President’s technology agenda. Obama’s agenda clearly is about change in a number of areas, including IT as an important enabler of change. So I guess one of the most important trait the President was looking for was the ability to be a change agent.

Here comes (2), what did he do in the past to show such a trait? Well, I would argue that his achievements in D.C. as a CTO got the attention of many, ranging from how he changed portfolio management to how he made procurement more transparent up until his venture into crowdsourcing applications. He also got a number of recognitions during his tenure in D.C.

Those who have been reading this blog for some time know that I like Vivek and wished him well when he went into some trouble shortly after his appointment. I do not think that allegations or even facts about his qualifications as a student or an entrepreneur can deny his nature of change agent.

Where I believe challenges are for him as well as for the whole administration, is in deciding how to prioritize change, and how to find the right blend between continuity and innovation.

The risk is that in between open data, cloud computing, government 2.0, support to major programs like national broadband and health IT, Obama’s IT team finds itself chewing too much too soon. 

If there is one thing that needs to be sorted out now, is how the CIO and CTO role relate to each other. A few days ago I watched an interview that CTO Aneesh Chopra gave to CNET, and could not get a straight answer to this, although the interviewers asked him a direct question. It is quite possible that roles, responsibilities and priorities have already been sorted out. But then, could we please know?

Additional Resources

Category: e-government  

Tags: aneesh-chopra  federal-cio  federal-cto  vivek-kundra  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Vivek Kundra’s Resume: Much Ado About Nothing?

  1. Jeff DePasquale says:

    Net-net: I support Vivek as an Executive Partner under EXP. I find his approach to be refreshing and focused. Not sure what his paper qualifications are, but he’s demonstrated to our team his calculated ability to step outside the “beltway box”.

  2. “”The Federal CIO establishes and oversees enterprise architecture to ensure system interoperability and information sharing and ensure information security and privacy across the federal government.””

    Enterprise Architecture, no doubt is a mechanism that can help facilitate change. John Zachman, himself in his FEAC training mentions, that change a ‘step function’ can be best anticipated via structures described in the Enterprise Architecture. And, EA is something that is learned over a period of time from experience. Unless, one is born savant.

    In lack of architecture experience, most CIO’s in both federal and commercial sectors have made strategic decisions that have not manifested tactically with the desired results. There are numerous cases in the Federal. Should OIG in each agency work with motivation, then a lot of ill-conceived plans and associated ill spent millions of dollars can be purged. But who cares. Talking EA has become a fashion. And, planners lacking design mind introduce ’empirical dilemma’, that is evident in the Federal Segment Architecture Methodology.

    Within the CCA, A-130 Circular ‘information dissemination’ is just one portion of federal responsibility. Web 2.0, or any social networking although good, does not solve the country’s looming problem. Such as, the problem that HHS confronts – medicare, medicaid; that VA confronts – Veteran Patient Health Information system. So on and so forth, there are some very serious problem looming and they have no easy answers both in terms of budget planning and managing the architecture complexity. Here is where we want the Federal CIO to be active. Not dealing with superlatives and in the conceptual solutions domains. Government must be concerned with defining accurately the ‘problem domain’, not engage with ‘solution domain’, but seek it instead.


  3. […] August 14, 2009 by Srinidhi Boray Vivek Kundra’s Resume: Much Ado About Nothing?. […]

  4. @Srinidhi:
    Thanks for raising the Enterprise Architecture angle. I have to confess I did not mention it waiting to see whether any of the readers would catch it.
    Let’s have a look at how successful EA has been to solve government-wide problems, like the ones you mention. Wherever it has been used, I believe, it has underdelivered and in many cases, whole-of-government EA has become a “mere compliance” initiative: you need to do EA in order to tick the boxes required to get the green light for funding. Also in other countries, like Canada or Denmark, where whole-of-government EA has been claimed a success, reality is that unless its use is focused on very specific objectives (at the program level), it soon loses momentum.
    I have no idea whether what Vivek and his folks have in mind is what I think, but I would offer two reflections here. The first one is that there are people working with Vivek at OMB who do have significant EA experience. The second one is that focusing on infomation dissemination and Web 2.0 also offers a very different perspective about how to address complex whole-of-government transformation problems.
    Rather than having one or few experienced (or saviant) architects driving a top-down transformation process that usually fails to meet its objective because its future state is either ill-conceived or too complex, what about architecting for “emergent systems”? In emergent systems, a number of simple entities (agents) operate in an environment, forming more-complex behaviors as a collective. They are characterized – amongst other things – by non-determinism, dynamicity and autonomy. Emergence implies decentralized decision making rather than a “central planning” hierarchical structure. The final results are neither totally predetermined nor predictable.
    I realize that this challenges the traditional behavior in government (as well as non-government) organizations. But it may be a safer way to achieve transformation while pushing the responsibility for doing EA back to departments and agencies. Of course you need somebody who is the custodian of (existing) EA standards and processes, but what is more important is explore how this “middle-out” transformation can be set in motion. To do so, you need to take unlikely paths and push on issues that – at first sight – do not look as relevant as they actually are.
    On the other hand, this is a risky bet and – especially in a government context – it is important to set measures (both quantitative and qualitative) that help understand what is working and what is not, which goes back to my earlier point about priorities.

  5. Yes, emergent systems are nothing but a systemic adjustment to achieve ‘generative transformation’. Order pertaining to this is ‘generative order’. As you rightly point out, the emergent system is highly networked giving rise non-determinism that i also characterized by ‘randomness’. This is the argument I have had in my discussion for ‘implicate order’ . Please refer link below

    Architecture complexity cannot be solved by consensus of non-architects. Unfortunately, as much as intuitiveness is necessary (which I place much emphasis by coining “Ingine”), I also think architectural / engineering experience cannot be denied. Much failure has occurred in the execution. Also, planning although it considers architecture, it is not intrinsically architecture not design. Planning many times has the hazard of treating architecture with much fallacies.

    As per your comments – “The final results are neither totally predetermined nor predictable”; It is very true that in a complex- array of agents the system behavior cannot be predictive nor deterministic. But what is true is that the system can be probabilistically deterministic while the random isolated events cannot be deterministic. These are very serious characteristics, that demands vigilance as they can turn into ad-hoc behaviours without easy respite, as it has happened in the wall-st and main-st.

    My Best Wishes for Federal CIO, with my firm I belief that ‘generative transformation’ will happen, that many will part of this historic transformation.

  6. When living in a world where new kinds of jobs are created every year, looking for past expertise in the same role isn’t the panacea it used to be.

    No-one has ever been Federal CIO before, so who’s to say what background experience is *most* relevant for the role?

    Related experience is important, but most important is attitude and capability – both of which Vivek has in droves. Like Henry Ford, he can hire in experts.

  7. Craig has it right: with technology changing so much so fast, in addition to technical understanding itself, leadership talent — or “attitude and capability” — are absolutely essential. On first look, Vivek’s achievements in DC manifested leadership talent. Ad hominem attacks aren’t surprising when one’s goals include revolutionizing systems to the extent that it threatens profits derived from continuing to plod along with closed proprietary systems. It’s a shame that the drive for transparency and accountability is distracted by this debate.

  8. WriterOne says:

    A brief search convinces me that Dvorak lacks credibility. By responding to his “commentary” we may be feeding into this unnecessary diatribe.

    Type “Dvorak is wrong” on Google and you get 485 hits, on Bing – 275 hits, on Yahoo – 18 pages (lost count). He has been wrong about social tech software, internet radio, Apple, Internet Explorer, Windows 7 … just about everything. Dvorak even estimated that the fingers of an average typist in his day traveled between 12 and 20 miles on a qwerty keyboard. Why are we wasting our time?

    Look at the few links below that show up…


    The general opinion is that is John Dvorak does not like something … that is usually a great thing. So much for a tech expert.

  9. @Craig and Paul:
    Thanks for reinforcing the point about attitude vs curriculum. I assume most are in vioent agreement about Vivek having the right attitude to be a change agent. Of course experience in a “somewhat similar” role would give some of his critics more confidence that he will be able to navigate the waters of Washington’s politics: government processes (anywhere in the world) can be a very powerful obstacle to even modest changes.
    I remember that, when I was in Australia earlier this year, somebody used the term “being mogged” (interesting similarity with “being mobbed”) to express the concept of being dragged into the existing mechanisms of the Machinery Of Government to the point that no change seems any longer possible. This could be one of the clear and present dangers for Vivek and other innovators at the White House

  10. I think we should use this discussion to create a creative dialogue for the change that we want. Mr. Vikek Kundra’s office must establish quickly a vehicle to allow for citizens to participate in making the Federal CIO’s office a success.

    Couple of good things that Federal CIO proves

    1. Stereo type needs to be defeated. Vivek’s performance based on his educational background is a testament to his intuitive way of functioning that has garnered him respect from the industry. Obviously this is based on the performance demonstrated.

    2. Experience is itself a shortcoming, when Change is much desired. As the fortified past is no more a baggage to deal with. Many times the baggage itself prove to be very toxic.

    There are many such factors that can be discussed that paves way for making the much needed progress.

    Things that need immediate attention:

    Education System

    eLearning system has evolved today to make the education a commodity. So that it can be carried to nook and corner of the country or the world with least delivery cost. It is also discussed elsewhere, that the pure meritocracy has allowed for linearization of ones successes based on ‘self fulfilling prophesy’. When education is a commodity, then anyone who desires can gain. The only problem that remains is the certification process, which can be much of a contention when it comes to what really grades mean. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that students with better grades supposedly demonstrate better analytical abilities. While the struggling students demonstrate intense desire to overcome their deficiency and develop resilience with improved endurance.

    eLearning, when commoditized removes all the pedigree around it and promotes pure aspiration for learning among the students, both young and old. Learning based on aspiration promotes curiosity and intuitiveness, much necessary to develop capacity for envisioning. Without such a capacity one cannot contemplate and desire change. Learning is essential for students to understand the present, analyze the existing problems and train for the future. Any work towards future is a decisive and disciplined process. It is not free-wheeling. This means much emphasis on education is must. And, as the Vivek Kundra’s background is a testament, pedigree is non-issue when skills for true transformative efforts is to be sought.

    The system that promotes education for all and ensures that aspiration is sustained eventually facilitates in establishing “fortitude” and “forbearance”. Without such traits in the person’s Character, it will not be possible to pursue the arduous path requiring courageous decisiveness into future that promises the much needed reprieve through transformation.

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