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The US Federal CIO Leaves: Has Government Run Out of Innovation Fuel?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  June 16, 2011  |  2 Comments

Over the last few days there have been two prominent IT professionals have announced that they will be leaving the Federal government.

Last week, Sonny Baghowalia, who has been leading the cloud agenda at GSA announced that he accepted a position of CIO in the State of Hawai starting in July.

Today’s news is that Vivek Kundra, the US Federal CIO who has been driving numerous innovations around cloud, transparency, IT management, will leave in August for a position at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

It is not coincidental that two bright individuals leave relatively early in the current administration’s life time. Most likely, the struggle around the budget for innovation in areas like open government, FedRAMP and more may have played a major role in making them decide to drop their weapons and change course to their careers.

I am sure that both will do great, although – especially for Vivek – there will be fewer opportunities to have an impact and drive change, something that he has been doing rather well as the CTO in DC and Obama’s CIO so far.

Where does this leave both the OMB and GSA? As far as the latter, the Office of Citizen Service and Innovative Technologies led by Dave McClure will have to take an even stronger role, as they have been the implementation arm of mosty of Vivek’s vision so far. The recently published list of cloud migrations for US agencies is hardly Earth-shattering, and Vivek’s drive and determination would have been key to make them step to the next level, i.e. planning more radical cloud deployments.

As the Obama administration enters the campaigning period, it is possible that they want to capitalize the innovation developed so far and move toward a more hands-on, implementation oriented CIO role than the more visionary one that Vivek played. On the other hand, Vivek had set the stage for an implementation phase through his plan for IT reform and the federal cloud computing strategy (see Gartner research note – login required).

Only future will tell, but all governments tend to be “elastic”: change happens if there is a strong enough driver, but it is equally easy to go back to the previous state when that driver has gone. I would not be surprised if after Vivek’s and Sonny’s departures, sourcing, procurement and IT management attitudes returned to where they were before. In order for this not to happen, the Obama administration needs to identify a burning platform or a series of compelling events to make sure that agencies absorb these new ways of managing IT and make them part of their normal course of business.

The choice of new leaders to replace Vivek and Sonny will be equally critical, but – if their mandate will still be to innovate – they will have to be given a context that is conducive to change. It looks like after two and a half years, this may no longer be the case.

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Category: cloud  it-management  open-government-data  

Tags: gsa  omb  us-federal-cio  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 The US Federal CIO Leaves: Has Government Run Out of Innovation Fuel?

  1. […] Andrea Di Maio is a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research, where he focuses on the public sector, with particular reference to e-government strategies, Web 2.0, the business value of IT, open-source software… Read Full Bio Coverage Areas: ← The US Federal CIO Leaves: Has Government Run Out of Innovation Fuel? […]

  2. Craig says:

    Given the time required to effect real change in governments – and any large organisations, the likely scenario is that if an activist advocate for Gov 2.0 isn’t appointed in Kundra’s place then government in the US will retreat to ‘safer’ levels.

    However, as always, time will tell if the Gov 2.0 movement is deeply enough rooted in the US federal government to survive the loss of one of it’s leading lights.

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