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FCW : April 15, 2015
32 April 15, 2015 FCW.COM FirstPerson that is dependent on the technology platform that is required to enable all of that. When it comes to mobility, when it comes to working in a secure and compliant environment, I think the work that we’ve done at GSA is pret- ty remarkable, and I’m proud to have been part of that conversation. And then with the tools that we developed for our operations, we shifted the discussion, effectively, from building highly integrated verti- cal solutions to solve a single point problem to “Let’s invest in common, extensible open platforms that can be reused and integrated in new ways to solve business problems across the board.” It’s yielded remarkable results. Our applications cost a fraction of what they used to cost in the old model. Are there initiatives or areas that you wish could have moved along faster? This is really a governmentwide [and] industrywide comment because the same challenges exist elsewhere. When you see smart organizations and smart companies, they have put a lot of effort and energy into figur- ing out how to leverage the data and content that they have and use it to drive business results. That’s yielded amazing results for those companies. I feel that same revolution has been hard to catch on in govern- ment. It’s been challenging to really adopt that data science philosophy where you are constantly looking at enterprise data as an asset, putting it through the right science to really drive business decisions and make those decisions in real time. There are many reasons for that. But I’m very enthusiastic about the work that is already going on. We are seeing a trend of several chief data scientists or chief data officers going to federal agencies. GSA has had a chief data officer for the last year and a half, and the results that they have achieved are tremendous. It’s amazing to see that happen, but there’s a long way to go before it’s really baked into our DNA. That’s an area that I think is ripe for innova- tion, and there is a lot of skill there that needs to be built in government. There’s also the challenge that federal acquisition approaches are sometimes not congruent with the way the most innovative, the most aggressive cloud providers are look- ing to engage, right? If you’re willing to buy something with a very strict mandate, a strict requirement for a long period of time when the world, the products and solutions are changing literally on a three- to six-month basis, it’s always going to be a conflict. That’s the challenge that exists today, and I hope GSA solves that challenge. The last thing is one of the big- gest challenges across the board in government and is one of the areas that I am very passionate about: the bringing back or in-sourcing of tech- nical expertise to a certain extent within the government. I believe pretty strongly that, for many years, for a lot of reasons that are neither here nor there, govern- ment agencies have worked to per- fect the compliance posture within technology. We have people who know how to accurately and appropriately process the invoice, issue an RFP, do an award. We have all these people who can make sure all the over- sight responsibilities are fulfilled. But in the process of that, somehow we have weakened the muscles we had...to actually have hands-on techies who understand tech deeply. That’s caused a situation, I believe, where many governing agencies struggle with really understanding what they buy, what they do with it, what they need. That leads to a lot of duplica- tion, a lot of wasted energy, and this leads to negative outcomes that can be avoided if we really focused on bringing the right technology skills back into government. We have already seen that hap- pen and had amazing results. 18F is really one of the models where we can accelerate it, but there are other models as well. That push to in-source talent has certainly picked up speed. What advice would you give to those new hires? What do you wish you knew when you first moved into the federal space? There are all these processes and policies. Sometimes those policies are real, based on legislation or executive [directives] and things like that. Other times, those policies are just common-law policies, as I like to call them. They’re just processes that have evolved because that’s always the way we have done it, and now people think that that should be a law somewhere. My advice to anybody coming in in any capacity would be — and it’s the same advice that I’ve given my deputy who’s going to be taking over for me as the acting CIO — you should always question the sta- tus quo, but be aware of where the hard and soft boundaries are. Question and probe, really get a better understanding of what the landscape looks like and then decide which areas you want to push on. It would be unfortunate if you just take the landscape as it is and decide that it’s the only play you can make. n 0415fcw_031-032.indd 32 3/24/15 1:16 PM
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