President Barack Obama’s administration was the first to look at the role of technology in government reform, says Vivek Kundra, former CIO of the United States and keynote speaker at the ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum in Orlando on Wednesday.
When Kundra assumed the role of managing the government’s technology, and the $80 billion IT budget that came with the job, he says he was immediately struck by the enormous gap between what the government was able to deliver to its citizens and what those citizens were increasingly used to receiving from the other entities that they do business with.
And it was more of a gulf than a gap. Even worse, $27 billion of those projects were late, failing, or over budget.
As Kundra tells it, his first order of business was to decide what he was going to do differently in terms of spending.
His solution, while elegant, was aggressive to an extreme. In addition to committing to a dashboard that displayed department-level budgets, project statuses and the photos of the individual department-level CIOs, he committed, under oath to Congress, that he would deliver this solution to end the endemic lack of transparency and accountability in 60 days. He also published the names of the vendors partnered with those CIOs.
But, Kundra says, the government then saved $3 billion by drilling down on the projects.
Amazing what a little sunshine and fresh air can do, eh?
Other lessons from America’s CIO were compelling, if less dramatic. Kundra observed that innovation is no longer taking place at the enterprise level and is now largely taking place in the consumer space.
He also instituted a cloud-first policy to drive costs down, and security and service up. He also ended the proliferation of “low-order projects,” closing 130, or 40 percent, of the government’s under-utilized data centers.
Conversely, Kundra also warned against “boiling the ocean,” that is, taking on overwhelming projects and spending too much time doing long-range planning for an unforeseeable future.
The old model of “command and control” and the “accountant’s mentality” for security measures had to end, as did the culture that “valued process over outcomes.”
For example, rather than creating reams of reports on cyber crimes, hack attacks and incursions (which were then stored under greater security than the initially compromised data, he says) Kundra oversaw the creation of ‘red teams’ and ‘blue teams’ to constantly test and fix America’s cyber vulnerabilities.
“Washington doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas,” Kundra said.
With that in mind, he also oversaw the creation of data.gov, which published government created data, such as Department of Defense satellite information. Companies were then free to analyze that data and build applications. One high-profile success story from this is Global Positioning Satellite apps, which are now ubiquitous to the point of being free and in our phones.
His final observation was on the transformational ability of social media, which he credits for toppling governments during the Arab spring, the creation of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the pummeling that Netflix received at the hands of its customers when it tried to raise rates and dial back services.
Ultimately, his advice to the gathering of insurance industry CIOs was to “hit people where they want it: the customer experience,” adding that the service model has to change so that people can connect to the information and services that they need, when they need them.
Chris McMahon is a senior editor for Insurance Networking News.
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