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From “Cloud First” to “Future First”: New Motto, Same Issues

By Andrea Di Maio | November 02, 2011 | 2 Comments

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A few days after I met him in DC, the US Federal CIO Steven Van Roekel addressed an audience of technology companies in Palo Alto, summarizing the main directions of his work for the months to come. He stressed efforts in four main areas: data center consolidation and cloud, modernization and mobility for the workforce, a greater focus on simplifying interaction between businesses and government, and – of course – cybersecurity.

The additional element that he mentioned, and had told me about during our meeting too, was the concept of “Future First”. In his own words:

Given the rapid pace of change in technology, it’s not enough to just build technology solutions that meet our needs today. We need to design for the future, not for the status quo.
That’s why I am calling on a broad group from across industry, academia, and government – those in this room and your colleagues around the country – to help formulate a “Future First” initiative that will help us continuously architect for the future.
Much as our “Cloud First” policy changed the landscape of IT spending, “Future First” will jump-start the government’s adoption of new technologies and approaches. I envision a set of principles like “XML First”, “Web Services First”, “Virtualize First”, and other “Firsts” that will inform how we develop our government’s systems. They will effectively establish a new default setting for architecting solutions government-wide, and they will be continuously updated as new technologies emerge to ensure that our government is at the frontier of advancements that yield a higher return on our IT investments, increase productivity, and improve the way the government interacts with the American people.

One might object that this is a bit broad and far-reaching, but Steve smartly added:

I’d like your help in defining these “Future First” principles. Are they the right principles? How should they evolve over time? How do they foster the greatest amount of competition and innovation? I look forward to working with you in the months ahead as we shape “Future First” and reorient the government to take better advantage of emerging and innovative technologies in constant pursuit of better, more cost effective government. You can email me your feedback at

So, while telling us what are the main priorities of his first period (improving data center consolidation, mobilizing workforce, business-focused services and cybersecurity), he threw some food to technologists, vendors, researchers, consultants, who will be able to provide all sort of suggestions about what “First” should come first.

I do hope Steven will take some time to assess how the “Cloud First” initiative worked out, distilling lessons about why certain agencies took it as a simple compliance exercise and others embedded it into their sourcing strategies.

I agree with Alex Howard who says that

…articulating principles based upon the need for modularity, interoperability and open standards represents at least a breath of fresh air. If he’s truly able to reform just that part of the government IT, much less the other improvements he’s laid out, it would be a lasting legacy

However the impact of these changes will take some time to be felt, and the challenge will be to balance short-term achievement that can be measured and shown (such as how many more data centers will be closed) and longer-term transformation, where taxpayers (and voters) may not exactly get the value of using XML or web services. Especially when approaching an election year.

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  • Andrea, interesting to see him mention principles like “XML First”, “Web Services First”, “Virtualize First”. XML and Web Services were among our recommendations in the EU report on Interoperability and Public Services we collaborated on back in 2007 (EIF 2.0).

    Other “Firsts” might include “Basic Services First” (also from the EIF report) and “Rules First” (to overcome business process hence service lethargy).

    However, especially in Europe, I see political and legal impediments to basic public services meaning composite public services still remain a long way to go. The same impediments may hinder the developments in the US although there they may be able to exert more harmonizing power on the federal side.

  • You are right Michiel. One thing is to agree on selecting standards, the other thing is to consistently apply those at a moment in time when administrations become more introvert as they have to deal with their own local (and mostly financial) problems