Obama’s Triad Takes on Government IT

When I was asked to comment on the prospects for the federal government’s new IT leaders- what I’m calling the “Federal Triad” – a sports analogy immediately came to mind.  Vivek Kundra, Aneesh Chopra and Jeffrey Zients – the new CIO, CTO and CPO respectively – are what I call ‘franchise players.’ Each is at the top of their game and has the drive and intelligence to enact significant and enduring change.

One would expect that the three together would create a dynasty with the ability to transform the playing field. This is my expectation, as I believe that the team assembled by the Obama Administration has the right ideas, attitude and backing to streamline, improve and transform government operations over the next several years. 

Already, their plates are quite full as a number of initiatives have been proposed for this new Federal Triad, including:

•    Making data and information more readily available;

•    Expanding adoption of the latest collaboration tools, including Wikis, blogs, mashups, Facebook and Twitter;

•    Measuring and monitoring agency performance more closely and publicly;

•    Making government more efficient; and

•    Standardizing our data and in particular, healthcare data.
These are the concerns that any forward-looking agenda should and must address. However, their agenda cannot just look to the future. Instead, the stark reality is this: running the existing business, which many refer to as legacy, consumes 60 to 85 percent of available resources. In other words, the vast majority of government IT resources are already committed to the care and feeding of existing programs and systems, leaving little room for innovation. The $64,000 question for government IT managers is how these concerns will be addressed in the race towards the next big thing.   

While most would prefer to skate over these issues since there are no easy answers, the reality is that they present a significant obstacle to the Obama Administration’s openness, transparency and accountability agenda. Career government IT leaders, when tasked with pursuing “‘innovation,” will need to ask themselves two important questions:

•    How do I turn off the legacy systems/infrastructure without a viable replacement?

•    Where will I find the resources and skills to do this new stuff at the same time?

And these are the right questions for them to be asking. Part of the answer will continue to be “do more with less.” More specifically, they will need to be ruthless in their drive to consolidate, standardize and simplify IT operations and ever vigilant to new IT costs. But the Federal Triad will need to exercise leadership in this area as well and I believe that they will. 

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