With Vivek Kundra, the first whole-of-government CIO for the US federal government, leaving his post for more academic pastures, it is fair to ask ourselves what impact he really had and to what extent the changes he set in motion will be sustainable.
Vivek showed that innovation is possible and that there are ways to challenge the status quo even in highly regulated and risk-averse organizations. His contribution to open government, to improved project and portfolio management, and to alternative sourcing models is undeniable. His 25 points to improve IT management and the first US federal cloud computing strategy are excellent documents to set a new pace.
However some of his own actions contradicted his statements. He used to say – as he did in a very recent interview to CNN Money – that “in Washington there’s a huge focus on policy, not a lot of focus on execution”. And, yet, he decided to leave before most of the ideas he launched during the first two years could come to fruition or just become part of the normal course of business. It is a fact that with the last budget he received less support than originally hoped for some of his innovation activities, and this may have been one of the triggers for his move. Whoever takes his role has very big shoes to fill, not so much for what he accomplished, but for what he promised he would accomplish.
Vivek certainly started a deep reflection on the role of government IT and how to better manage it for greater effectiveness and efficiency, and many agency CIOs have certainly taken notice. Many government executives, CIOs and IT leaders I met around the world over the last two years have been watching quite carefully what he and his colleagues have been doing, and he was always keen to network with his peers in other countries to share ideas and experiences.Unfortunately, he is leaving too early to take an active ole on executing his 25 points and make sure that at least some of the suggested changes would be long lasting.
Maybe Vivek is more a shaker and a mover than a doer, despite some of the accomplishments during his tenure. I am pretty sure that some will look at his departure as a defeat for innovators, and will be quietly waiting for a return to the “normal course of business”. However, the fact is that there is no “normal course of business” any longer. We are facing a new normal, where that requires governments to operate in fundamentally different and smart ways that make service delivery economically sustainable. Vivek’s unconventional way to look at government IT is here to stay.
Vivek’s replacement has just been named: Steven Van Roekel, currently managing director of the FCC and long-timer at Microsoft before that. I wish him and his staff the best of luck to keep the innovation momentum that Vivek started two years ago.