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FCW : November and December 2015
ALAN BALUTIS and STUART ROBBINS work in public sector and corporate affairs, respectively, at Cisco Systems. The views expressed are their own. With sincere apologies to the Beach Boys circa 1965, federal IT leaders continue to be enamored with the California girls and boys of Silicon Valley. In the past several months, smitten suitors have made the trip to California to press their thirsty lips to the fountains of agile and innovation knowledge. Examples abound, including: • Last month, ACT-IAC held meet- ings in San Jose with a number of enterprise companies, venture capi- tal firms and select startups. • The Professional Services Coun- cil will hold a similar session this month with the California Technol- ogy Council. • The departments of Defense and Homeland Security are both open- ing offices in Silicon Valley. Deputy CIO Margie Graves said DHS is looking into new ways to collabo- rate with tech start-ups, including inviting them to work on pilot proj- ects and other approaches that side- step the official contracting process. • Programs like 18F, the Presiden- tial Innovation Fellows and the U.S. Digital Service have targeted Silicon Valley technologists for term appointments in government. All those efforts are well-inten- tioned, but perhaps some perspec- tive is in order. We first met in the early 2000s, when Mark Forman was named the first U.S. CIO, IT spending was growing at close to a double- digit rate and the White House’s e-government initiatives were being launched. Alan Balutis had just left public service to lead the Industry Advisory Council, while Stuart Rob- bins, who founded the CIO Collec- tive, was working with a number of Silicon Valley firms that wanted to get into the federal market. We both agreed to work with Forman and his staff to build better bridges between the tech community and the public sector. Although much has changed, especially with the actual tech- nology, some fundamental issues remain. We offer the following thoughts and suggestions because of our long history as advocates for public/private collaboration: • The new generation of General Services Administration and Office of Management and Budget employ- ees are bright, energetic and com- mitted to building bridges between D.C. and the tech community, espe- cially in Silicon Valley. • The young leaders from the ven- ture capital community are equally bright and energetic, but they are somewhat naïve about business complexity inside the Beltway. They are similarly uninformed about legacy systems, legislative compli- cations and the Washington bureau- cracy (of which at least some knowledge is necessary). • Relatively few companies or people outside the Beltway know about initiatives like 18F and the Presidential Innovation Fellows. A broader marketing and outreach campaign could be more useful than creating additional pathways for business. • Getting rid of regulatory com- plexity is a nice idea, but there is a reason for and value in programs like FedRAMP, which vets candi- dates and eliminates those that do not have the discipline or rigor to provide business at scale. If a company can’t meet those require- ments, maybe it should recognize that it won’t be able to “hit big league pitching” when it comes to federal IT. • There seems to be little or no appreciation for state and local governments as proving grounds for new technologies. And we see scant interest at the federal level in intergovernmental partnerships as an expanded marketplace for pilot projects that could solve citizen problems while simultaneously serving as a test bed for solutions that could scale to the federal level. If we aren’t pilloried for these initial observations, we might have more to offer on this subject in the future. In the interim, we welcome your feedback. n Wish they all could be... The administration is right to be building bridges with the tech community. But there’s talent to be found outside California. Although much has changed since the early 2000s, especially with the actual technology, some fundamental issues remain. 12 November/December 2015 FCW.COM Commentary | ALAN BALUTIS AND STUART ROBBINS 1215fcw_012.indd 12 11/11/15 12:20 PM