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Meeting the New US Federal CIOs: Continuity, with a Different Style

By Andrea Di Maio | October 21, 2011 | 0 Comments

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Today I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time the recently appointed US Federal CIO Steven Van Roekel, who replaced Vivek Kundra last August. Steven has a past as Microsoft executive and more recently in federal government for two years before his last appointment, where he has been working on some interesting innovations around application stores and web services.

In our short meeting he summarized his longer term vision, some of the metrics he will be using to measure progress – taking into account the electoral cycle, as well as a few highlights about the governance arrangements he has in mind.

Like any CIO today, and even more a CIO with a cross-government responsibility, it seems to me that his challenges are (1) how to balance long term vision with short term execution (against milestones that demonstrate sustainable value) and (2) how to value IT with elected political leaders.  Steven seems to be willing to tackle this latter issue with energy, while building on what his predecessor has done.

The focus on IT infrastructure rationalization remains a priority, but he is also aiming at improving the way applications will be modernized, by pushing for componentization and reuse, which may prepare agencies to use cloud platform-as-a-service after they have started deploying IaaS and SaaS as triggered by the “cloud-first” policy. Cybersecurity is of paramount importance to increase trust and help the culture shift in a traditionally risk-averse environment.

Steven is looking for the active engagement of CIOs in large agencies, in order to ensure that they have teeth in the game and a vested interested in the success of his initiatives: this is not dissimilar from what the UK government has done with its new IT strategy and the establishment of a CIO delivery board, where chunks of the whole-of-government strategy have been assigned to CIOs in different departments.

Last but not least, he is looking at areas where the impact of IT-driven innovation can benefit citizen and business service delivery. Although we did not have enough time to drill down on this, my sense is that he may focusing on the impact that federal IT reform would have on businesses, by offering radical simplification of government-to-business interaction. This should have a positive impact on the ability of business to increase productivity and adapt to changing economic conditions, and contribute to economic growth and employment.

Steven has certainly inherited one of the most interesting CIO positions worldwide, and seems to possess the experience, the energy and the clout  that are required to move forward. He will have to be careful in fighting those battles that he can win and that can deliver demonstrable value in the short term, without losing sight of the long-term goal of transforming federal IT management. Areas where more clarity may be required, also considering the current state of the market, are the relationship between data center consolidation and cloud computing, how to move from managing a few large IT projects and contracts to dealing with many more, smaller ones, and how to stick to success metrics that make sense in business (and political terms) rather than in pure IT terms.

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