by Mark Stone

CIOs Counsel Kundra: Advice for Obama’s Federal CIO, Part Four

Mar 12, 20095 mins
Government IT

In the fourth piece of a five-part series this week, we're sharing tactical and strategic advice for newly named federal CIO Vivek Kundra from CIOs in the trenches. Today's author: Mark Stone, former CIO of Zale Corporation.

Mr. Kundra: You have been hired by the Board (excuse me, the Obama Administration) to reduce federal technology spending, to increase information sharing between federal agencies, to allow greater access to government information and to ensure privacy and security. What now? Having been in IT for over 20 years (including 5 years with the RTC, God rest its soul), I offer you the following advice:

More CIOs Give Advice to Kundra

Check out the lessons learned that our other authors have to share with Vivek Kundra, the first federal CIO. Make the better both comfortable and familiar, advises Niel Nickolaisen, CIO and Director of Strategic Planning at Headwaters. Remember your customer, says Thomas Murphy, Senior VP & CIO for AmerisourceBergen. Don’t underestimate the importance of your advisors, says Mykolas Rambus, CIO of Forbes Media.

Know Where You Are Going

The responsibility in front of you is daunting. As such, do not create a laundry list of objectives. Rather, pick a few specific objectives and hone in on those. Follow the tried and true strategy of “crawl, walk, run.” Do not allow others to set the agenda, set the agenda yourself.

Simplify, Standardize, and Scale

Whenever possible, identify common platforms—hardware and software that each agency utilizes. There should be a standard payroll system, a common general ledger system, a common purchasing system, etc. There should be a limited set of approved hardware and operating systems. Having then simplified the approved hardware and software environment, negotiate with hardware/software vendors taking advantage of size and scale.

Look to the Clouds

You must look to the clouds from which your deliverance shall come. There you will find greater security, lower costs, and improved services for all federal agencies. There you will find software-as-a-service applications rather than multi-year ERP implementations. There you will find Google Apps,, and a host of other solutions that will require minimal capital investments. There you will find solutions that can be implemented in shorter periods of time. There you will find freedom.

Don’t Divide to Conquer

Many believe that if you optimize each part of the organization, you’ll end up with an optimized organization. In reality, that strategy leads to many of the worst habits of organizational design (thank you Bob Lewis for pointing out this fact). Likewise, applying this organizational approach to the federal government will ensure the continuation of disparate systems and practices. Dividing responsibilities across agencies, telling each owner to take care of his/her agency will inevitably result in divisions, fighting over resources, and a federal government whose parts don’t fit together. The federal government will not effectively deliver the results desired by the administration in power. Don’t do that.

Tell every owner of technology, in each federal agency, that he or she is a part of the federal government. They are currently focused on a single agency but responsible for the entirety of the services being provided by the federal government, not just a fragment.

Think Small

It is a known fact—projects tend to fail, enhancements always succeed. Why do projects have a tendency to fail? They are inherently complex, they divorce the project team from the end-users, and they require years to complete. Think what can happen in a two-year period of time: the sponsor can be promoted/terminated/hired away, key members of the team can leave, or the balance of political power can shift. Why do enhancements always succeed? It is because enhancements are simple, the development team and analysts work directly with the users and the efforts are short in duration.

If you want to create a sense of urgency, you will need to think small. You will need to break down projects into a series of small enhancements.

Remember Who Your Customers Are

Customers are the people who make or influence buying decisions. In your case, that is the taxpayers who elect the President and Congressional representatives who evaluate your efforts. Just as in healthy companies, you need to have every agency focus on exactly the same customer as everyone else in the federal government the external, taxpaying customer.

Stand Tall

As a CIO, you will be asked by the Administration to reduce expenses, increase revenues, and increase efficiency. Remember to not kill the “goose that lays the golden eggs.” When you testify before Congressional Committees, speak out against legislation that will limit the number of H1B visas. Speak out against legislation that limits off-shoring. Speak out against legislation that attempts to control the internet. Speak out against legislation that will prove to be counterproductive in the long run. All good business CIOs, do not avoid disagreeing with the Administration (in their case, the Board) when they are wrong. What is the worst thing they can do to you? Fire you?

Mark A. Stone has more than 28 years of experience in the field of information technology, incuding 15 years at Zale Corporation, where he served as Senior Vice President/CIO. Prior to Zale, Mark served as the Director of Financial Operations for the Resolution Trust Corporation. In this capacity, he was responsible for all activities associated with financial operations — loan servicing, asset processing, asset operations, financial reporting, and asset systems — for 203 institutions and $14.4 billion in assets. Mark is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a BBA in Accounting from Baylor University and a Masters in Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary.