Vivek Kundra – U.S. Government CIO

"Put the citizen at the heart of Government Services- they are the customer, not the bureaucracy."

“Put the citizen at the heart of Government Services- they are the customer, not the bureaucracy.”

Vivek Kundra is an Indian American administrator who served as the first chief information officer of the United States from March, 2009 to August, 2011 under President Barack Obama. As CIO of the U.S. Government,  Vivek was one of the first to champion the use of cloud technology in the public sector. He believes in high level accountability for every IT project and was passionate about the ability to use government collected data to drive real consumer improvement.  I had the opportunity to hear Vivek speak as an Innovator at the World Innovation Forum.

Vivek’s first actions as CIO were centered around restructuring the project portfolio.  Many of the Government IT projects were millions of dollars over budget, and still years off schedule. He added three key strategies to focus spending and increase accountability:

  •  He built a public government website for the IT portfolio where all spending is transparently visible, with a page for the status of each project publicly visible, with a picture of the accountable CIO next to the status.  According to Vivek, CIO’s were calling him saying that they were suddenly being asked to provide status on 5-7 year old projects from leadership that previously hadn’t even been aware it existed.  
  • He began to hold TechStats, or stop-go meetings to determine the current health of each IT project within an agency, and to provide an opportunity to step away from funding the project if it is too far off course to warrant further time and tax dollar resources. After his first few, he was able to identify several projects that were floundering, and where possible, add visibility and focus to right the ship. This also added immediate cost savings by cutting projects that were a drain on resources beyond help. These meetings are “data-driven, action-focused and results-oriented,” he said.
  • Manage Information Security concerns. He drove to assess a project’s need for military-grade security, as well as whether or not the underlying infrastructure needed to be owned and operated by the U.S. government.

There is a misconception that the cloud is not safe, and that the government should have the responsibility to protect the data it collects on its own. Interestingly enough however, this has resulted in an unsustainable swell of infrastructure costs. In many cases, independent studies found that cloud infrastructure solutions were more secure to modern day threats than the government-owned solutions. There are several contributing factors to this, but Vivek pointed to the inability to retain top security talent with public sector pay as a primary reason for the lag.

One of Vivek’s primary contributions as CIO is Data.gov, which opens up large, unclassified datasets collected by the government and makes it available to the public. This creates an environment where the average citizen can be a watchdog of their Government, stemming corruption by pulling it into the open.  More than that, it also grants innovative minds and entrepreneurs access to unprecedented amounts of data to produce quality products for American citizens.  Their developer and community sections showcase how citizens are using open US data sets to build web tools and apps on everything from Health & Safety, Research, Education, or Energy.

Vivek Kundra’s talk was inspiring.  I plan to be looking through the data available further.

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Vivek Kundra has recently been hired by Salesforce.com to be the executive vice president of emerging markets.

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