Leverage the Wealth of Federal Data

Steve Vanroekel, CIO, Office of Management and Budget
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Steve Vanroekel, CIO, Office of Management and Budget

Shift in Federal IT

CIO’s are driving government functions process transformation efforts—while tuning and elevating IT’s relationship with the business. Here are three areas we have focused on:

Agile Mindset–Rather than simply trying to predict innovations years in advance, the Federal Government must position itself to harness opportunities as they emerge, no matter where they come from—public sector, private sector, academia, or from individuals. This means shifting how we conceive Federal IT by architecting systems for reuse, adopting agile and modular methodologies, unlocking agency data to put it in the hands of innovators, and making use of light weight technologies such as cloud computing to improve service agility—all the while building in cybersecurity from the outset to protect our data assets from an ever-evolving array of threats. 

Investment Focus–In past years, the Federal Government viewed IT merely as a cost, not as a strategic asset. But as the private-sector demonstrated early on, the strategic use of IT provides a competitive advantage by improving delivery of services, creating value, and optimizing operations.

Since the President took office, the Federal Government has been evolving to apply this same rigor to IT. This means developing and using IT valuation models that drive Return-on-Investment (ROI) and applying accounting concepts like depreciation and amortization to inform and optimize technology refresh cycles. CIOs must also be investment owners, empowered to make business-focused, value-based decisions.

  ​Our driving force is to fundamentally change the way we build things within Government—moving from a multi-year, monolithic approach to a more modular, agile base 

Innovate with Less—Rather than being forced to reduce service due to fiscal constraints, we should view it as an opportunity to fundamentally rethink how we approach technology. Consider for example, the fact that more than half of the Fortune 500 companies were founded during an economic downturn. In tough fiscal times, visionaries and risk-takers tap into underutilized human capital, technology, information and other resources, picking up the pieces to transform them into something completely new. By making use of lightweight, emerging technologies, opening our data to leverage an army of citizen developers, adopting agile methodologies, we can increase the quality of service while curbing costs— in effect, we can innovate with less. 

Benchmarking to Identify Positivity

Through our PortfolioStat process, we are working with agencies across the Federal enterprise to evaluate where they stand on a variety of quantitative key performance indicators.

These help agencies see where they have made additional improvement over the last couple of years and identify areas for action. Moreover, as a part of the President’s Management Agenda’s, “Benchmarking” cross-agency priority goal, agencies are measuring each organizational component within their agency in terms of “per unit” costs and service level for a variety of key IT services, such as email, network storage, and IT help desk support. This benchmarking helps agencies to identify particularly positive areas within their organization, as well as organizations outside of their agency from where they can harness best practices.

Expectations from Technology Providers to Improve Business Processes

Rather than specific solutions, I believe what you’ll see from the Administration is an increased focus on the customer, be they the American public or in some cases, internal to the government. We have been working with our colleagues within the Administration and the private sector to develop a playbook, built on commercial and public sector best practices, to guide how the government digital services are built. This Playbook hones in on the fundamental questions that are addressed in successful IT programs, such as:

Do you know who your customers are and what they need?
Do you have skilled people running your IT programs and have you empowered them to make decisions?
Are you able to deliver something quickly, before it is overcome by events?
Are you using and re-using existing platforms and baking in security instead of bolting it on afterwards?

Our driving force is to fundamentally change the way we build things within Government—moving from a multi-year, monolithic approach to a more modular, agile base.

Collaboration Tools—Changing the Consumer Landscape

Today’s amazing mix of cloud computing, ever-smarter mobile devices, and collaboration tools is changing the consumer landscape and bleeding into government as both an opportunity and a challenge while fundamentally changing the concept of service delivery. Whether that’s ensuring the best mobile technology available to support our troops on the ground overseas, or reimagining how farmers plant their crops, these technologies have already changed the game for industry and government and will continue to do so in the years to come. For example, take Open Data—the free and open flow of data can create tremendous value, spurring innovation across our nation and improving the quality of services for the American people. This is why we must enable the public, entrepreneurs, and our own government programs to better leverage the wealth of federal data to pour into applications and services by ensuring that data is open and machine-readable by default, while also keeping sensitive information completely secure. This is why the President issued a landmark Executive Order on Open Data last year, making open data the default motion for the government. Under this EO, agencies are working hard to unlock data and recast how those around the globe consume information that has been locked within closed systems for decades.