by Mykolas Rambus

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

Mar 11, 20095 mins
Government IT

In the third 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: Mykolas Rambus, CIO of Forbes Media.

An open letter to Vivek Kundra, Federal CIO:

Starting with your appointment as America’s first Federal CIO, having as President Obama stated oversight of Federal IT spending and effectiveness, you now have the deepest pockets of any CIO, anywhere. With an $80 billion Federal IT dollar budget to oversee, and a $3.6 trillion dollar Federal Budget to influence, you are in the unique position to affect tremendous change.

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. And remember your customer, says Thomas Murphy, Senior VP & CIO for AmerisourceBergen.

In your last role, as the technology executive for our nation’s capital, you helped government get out of its own way, affording the district’s citizens to interact and benefit from government, better, faster, and cheaper. You were an advocate of increased government transparency, making public as many databases as possible and using Google Apps as a platform to deliver services. From your time in successful start-ups, you understand entrepreneurship and innovation at its building blocks.

The challenges you face as America’s CIO are plenty, especially as your commander-in-chief and administration still struggle to distinguish between a CIO, CTO, and Cybersecurity Chief. It is no coincidence that Obama’s nod to the need for greater IT prowess in the government led to his sole announcement of a Federal CTO, only in recent months to be upstaged by the creation of a Federal CIO, and your subsequent appointment.

Your very first priority must be to solidify your new position’s mandate, scope, and ecosystem. As we too often find in corporate, academic, and government settings, the purpose of a CIO is not well understood by his or her peers and must be communicated vigorously.

Once you’ve engaged in outreach to communicate your new office’s responsibilities, your attention should turn to short-range, 90-day planning.

First, assemble an extraordinary leadership team. With the call of a historic administration, and the reduced lure of hefty private-sector paychecks, there has been no better time to bring leading minds into your inner-circle. Focus on those who have skills in diplomacy, consensus building, innovation, process management, constituent relations, cyber-security, technical architecture, and product development.

Your office has a tremendous number of constituencies, many of whom have interest in your role succeeding or failing. Build relationships and collaborate with state and federal CIOs and the vendor community. Equally as important, develop structures that allow you to interact as close peers with the Federal CTO, once named, and the to be determined Cybersecurity Chief. With the President having ordered a 60-day review of all Cybersecurity programs, and the intelligence community still wrangling for control, you will need to stay in close contacts with all players.

Second, develop the Office of the CIO agenda. You are among the few CIOs whose leadership has outlined a clear strategic plan that is unlikely to change in the near-term; as a result, developing and communicating your plans should be much easier. However, what does not exist is a reasonable, consistent, and transparent set of IT metrics.

From your work in D.C., we know that you favor ease and transparency—bring that to the Federal sector and set the example for this country. Learn from our Australian government counterparts who are using a comprehensive IT review called the Gershon Report to set operational and financial benchmarks. And perhaps most importantly, help implement your President’s national agenda by encouraging lower healthcare costs leveraging IT, reducing friction in the delivery of the Stimulus package, and doing all that you can to keep America safe from growing technological threats.

Third, set up a government Information Technology Advisory Council, comprised of the best and brightest minds in technology, process change, and e-government, to assist you in implementing your agenda. This body would be in many ways analogous to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, an instrument that presidents have had at their disposal since 1946. You should as well. Ralph Zygenda, CIO of General Motors, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, Darwin John, former CIO of the FBI, and Orit Gadiesh, Chairwoman of Bain & Company, come to mind.

Fourth and finally, but not part of your 90-day plan, launch a pilot program to spur IT innovation focused on government uses. Given your position and oversight of the vast Federal IT budget, you have the ability to find monies to encourage innovation that not only help your agenda but also the economy at large through the development of new ventures.

Countless major companies and products have been built from DARPA grants, awards, and activities, all of which have contributed tremendous economic value. With a program not dissimilar to your Apps for Democracy contest launched last year, the opportunities are endless. Imagine alone the potential for, which could be enhanced ten-fold to be a true gateway for e-government. While there has been plenty of technology innovation in the last 20 years, IT-specific innovation has slowed, and you’re in the perfect position to kick-start it again.

Mr. Kundra, recognize that you possess great responsibility for the present and future of IT leaders everywhere, and that you have the very real potential of setting the tone for how government, and this country, understands, interacts with, and benefits from technology. Good luck and godspeed.

Mykolas Rambus is CIO of Forbes Media. He has held IT leadership and general executive roles in management consulting, real estate, and start-up ventures. Mykolas, a frequent commentator on executive issues, has been quoted in numerous media outlets and is a regular keynote speaker and guest lecturer. He is also a contributor to Greg Smith’s book, “Straight to the Top, becoming a World-Class CIO”. Mykolas studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he concentrated on operations research and information technology.