USPTO digital transformation rests on culture change

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office CIO Jamie Holcombe has overhauled the federal agency's IT culture as part of its digital transformation.

USPTO digital transformation rests on culture change
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Two years ago, a database corruption issue at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office brought parts of the agency's electronic filing system down for several days. The IT platform that the Patent Application Locating and Monitoring (PALM) system depended on was nearly two decades old.

The USPTO IT team got PALM up and running on a brand-new server platform within a few days and noted the new platform was 1,000 times faster, 20 times more efficient, and far more stable than the previous one. The incident also spurred the agency to take a fresh look at its IT systems from top to bottom, particularly with respect to stability, resiliency, and security. It hired Jamie Holcombe, a long-time veteran of both the private sector and government, as its new CIO to see the process through.

"My mandate was to make change. It was to get the resiliency of the organization to its proper level," Holcombe says. "The patent office had experienced a number of key outages prior to my arrival. Those outages could have been prevented through the right architecture and the right operations."

Holcombe notes USPTO had been plugging away at an infrastructure overhaul and transformation for several years before his arrival, so his job was to reenergize IT and create a sense of urgency. About 18 months into the overhaul, Holcombe has shifted IT from a "project" focus to a "product" focus. He has divided IT into four product lines: patents, trademarks, back office (finance, HR, legal, supply chain, etc.), and IT and infrastructure (the common services within the IT realm).

Each product line is subdivided into eight product teams, each of which has a product owner from the business unit. That's a big deal, Holcombe explains, because business units own the business value they derive from the team’s efforts.

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