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I remember hearing Oracle’s President and Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz speak a few years ago at a conference I was able to attend.  If you’re not familiar with her she happens to be one of the highest, if not the highest, compensated women in the world.  Aside from that fact she works for the co-founder of Oracle Larry Ellison; it in itself not an easy task she noted.  What struck me immediately in her description of operations at Oracle was the “independent operations” that each geographically separated division of the company was doing.  Having arrived in 1999 at Oracle she noted that it was effectively divisional chaos; divisions doing similar non-coordinated things all over with little contribution toward building upon the large corporate strategy.  Larry had brought Safra on at Oracle to fix this massive problem.

As I listened I couldn’t help but feel that this issue having been recognized at Oracle in the early part of the last decade had not been faced or embraced within the U.S. Government.  I could only identify a few examples in our Military and even less withing the U.S. Navy.  But this was during the time when taxpayer money flowed at a much faster and less scrutinized rate than that of 2012.  With this context I’m ecstatic to see the release of the Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People by the U.S. Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Immediately in the introduction the US-CIO identifies the major issue the USG traditionally struggles with:

Early mobile adopters in government—like the early web adopters—are beginning to experiment in pursuit of innovation Some have created products that leverage the unique capabilities of mobile devices. Others have launched programs and strategies and brought personal devices into the workplace. Absent coordination, however, the work is being done in isolated, programmatic silos within agencies.

The Digital Strategy Objectives:

  • Enable the American people and an increasingly mobile workforce to access high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, anytime, on any device.
  • Ensure that as the government adjusts to this new digital world, we seize the opportunity to procure and manage devices, applications, and data in smart, secure and affordable ways.
  • Unlock the power of government data to spur innovation across our Nation and improve the quality of services for the American people.

The technologists have finally taken hold within the USG.  The Digital Strategy Principles are based on:

  • An “Information-Centric” approach—Moves us from managing “documents” to managing discrete pieces of open data and content17 which can be tagged, shared, secured, mashed up and presented in the way that is most useful for the consumer of that information.
  • A “Shared Platform” approach—Helps us work together, both within and across agencies, to reduce costs, streamline development, apply consistent standards, and ensure consistency in how we create and deliver information.
  • A “Customer-Centric” approach—Influences how we create, manage, and present data through websites, mobile applications, raw data sets, and other modes of delivery, and allows customers to shape, share and consume information, whenever and however they want it.
  • A platform of “Security and Privacy”—Ensures this innovation happens in a way that ensures the safe and secure delivery and use of digital services to protect information and privacy.

The remainder of the document puts forth the more detailed aspect of each of these objective and how the principles should be implemented.  It should open the eyes of the digital immigrants within the USG.  With any new strategy this will take time for the USG as a whole to migrate toward.  I simply wish that this would have received this amount of attention and backing when the USG could have avoided these extreme budget conditions.  Imagine if this would have been released in 2008; the USG would be in a lot better condition both in the realm of information and fiscal effectiveness.  The technology was there then… apparently we had our priorities a bit misaligned.


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We’ve seen the U.S. Government CIO publicize his plan to Do More with Less Through Strategic Investment and now the White House has published the Federal Information Technology Shared Services Strategy (May 2, 2012).  

Its main points are:

  • Need to Innovate with Less – the large fiscal deficit drives this necessity but really the IT consolidation that is occurring throughout the U.S. Government is something that should have been done from the beginning.  Quantities of Scale are not a new discovery and the ability for the USG to combine together to provide a single service provided for the entirety of the organization is now paramount.  The disappointing aspect of this document is that is bounds itself to only the Executive Branch of the USG.  The requirement to “Deliver solutions faster, for less money, and with fewer resources” is a significant challenge.  One that will only be accomplished through this quantity of scale solution.
  • While I would agree that “Federal Agency CIOs are well positioned to work with other agency executives and provide leadership for the Shared-First effort by using a cross-organizational perspective to identify opportunities for the consolidation of redundant mission, support, and commodity IT services at all levels,” I don’t believe they are empowered sufficiently enough to accomplish what is being required of them.  One must remember that the USG has only had two CIO’s.  This entity within the Government sector is an exceptionally junior member that has only recently been able to sit at the table with the well established executives within our Government.  There is significant differences from organization to organization with respect to how the CIO is positioned and how empowered the individual is within the organization.  This all equates to their overall effectiveness.  I think this aspect represents the largest portion of risk to this initiative.
  • A new requirement for Chief Operating Officers (COOs) is hidden within the generation of a thing called PortfolioStat.
  • What is a PortfolioStat?A PortfolioStat session is a face-to-face, evidence-based review of an agency’s IT portfolio that includes examining cost, schedule and performance data on commodity IT investments, and identifying potential duplications or investments that do not appear to be well aligned to agency missions or business functions, with an eye toward consolidating or eliminating those investments to free up agency funds for innovation and other requirements (Glad we cleared that up – Effective oversight, check).
  • The document then goes on to identify the Managing Partner, Customer, and Supplier for the Shared IT services.  I’m fairly sure we could have figured this out on our own.  Should have just cut to the chase and formed a new Government “Pick your favorite major IT company” like a Government Google or Government Microsoft, etc.  At least with a solution like this we could focus the quantities of scale dollars on IT experts vice having a bounty of average IT individuals.
  • Critical Success Factors – Executive Support (won’t happen without it), Cultural Change (change in Gov’t = slow), Business Process Reengineering (see previous comment about change), Technology Enablement (hmm might have heard this before), Resource Realignment (see change comment), Adoption Strategy (more change), Continuous Improvement (isn’t this institutionalized yet?).
  • Commodity IT – one great thing thus far.  But since it wasn’t defined how will we know what it is?  And the reference doesn’t make it much better (OMB M-11-29).  So we know what Commodity IT maybe is but the USG definitely does not know how to deal with it or properly acquire it and this challenge only becomes more difficult as you approach the leading edge of innovation.
  • The remainder of the document focuses on implementation, timelines, Policy and Governance details.

Remember all of this supports the initial USG 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management. Although I jest a bit with this review, the document is a good continuum of effort and push by the Federal CIO.  As noted Mr. Steven VanRoekel is only the second in the USG CIO position and there are large hurdles to vault before we can get the full USG into the advanced IT realm.

[via The White House]

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So the “next big thing” is here in the U.S. Government and Military sector; Cloud Computing.  But for years there has been significant resistance against putting an organizations resources and essence into a far off computing land.  The Cloud is being targeted to provide unprecedented amounts of savings to solve part of the budgetary catastrophe.  What really hasn’t been done yet is a significant forethought to provide how to implement, transition, and protect these Cloud capabilities from the government side of things.

In  Icebergs in the Clouds: the Other Risks of Cloud Computing, Bryan Ford looks to address several specific issues:

  1. Stability risks due to unpredictable interactions between independently developed but interacting cloud computations;
  2. Availability risks due to non-transparent layering resulting in hidden failure correlations; and
  3. Preservation risks due to the unavailability of a cloud service’s essential code and data outside of the provider.

While difficult to foresee the major issues of this transition by the public sector to Cloud Computing Bryan’s paper looks to address these issues in case they fully materialize.

From my personal perspective the cloud shift should provide a great deal of monetary savings but I don’t think the expected gains will be fully realized.  For more then a decade the war chest of funds has been too open.  This allowed independent acquisition and implementation of what equates to personal server farms throughout countless organizations.  The lack of empowerment provided to the CIO in most organizations continued to allow this to occur.  Combine these issues with organizations that do have significant and vital operations to maintain and you have a battle that a weak CIO (both in technical and organizational prowess) cannot win.

What are you seeing in your organization?  What do you think of the Cloud transition?

[via Cornell University Library]

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