Vivek Kundra at WIF NY 2013

Vivek Kundra at WIF NY 2013Quick! Excluding the President, who’s the single most impressive, visionary, leader in either the first or second Obama administration? Give up? Well, I just saw him speak at the World Innovation Forum 2013 in Manhattan. He’s the former and first ever Chief Information Officer of the United States, Vivek Kundra, and to me it’s a toss up whether the greater insight was in creating the position or convincing Vivek to fill it so admirably.

Having previously served as CTO for the District of Columbia and as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce & Technology for the state of Virginia, Vivek was the USCIO from March 2009 to August 2011. Today he’s the EVP of Emerging Markets for Salesforce and a Visiting Fellow at Harvard.

However brief his tenure with the Feds, Vivek’s impact was truly extraordinary. From the outset he faced off against the living history of enormous, Federally funded and all too often failed IT programs far too numerous to catalog here. Charting his own course against the odds, Vivek chose to pursue four simple, concrete goals:

1. Strategically manage the Fed’s $80BN worth of IT projects to productive completion;

2. Recognize hacking was no longer limited to disgruntled teens but now included sophisticated nation states and organized crime networks;

3. Move away as quickly as advisable from redundant, expensive and outdated fixed assets in favor of the cloud; and

4. Address all this in the service of making the government more effective, more accountable, and more open the to the people is serves.

Among his first initiatives was the launch of providing immediate access to raw government data enabling far greater public participation while directly spurring private sector innovation. Then he launched the IT Dashboard providing unprecedented trans-agency and public visibility into the performance of individual Federal IT investments. He designed the Dashboard to report the progress of every single IT project underway, accompanied by the name and photograph of the agency CIO responsible. Then Vivek took an additional, inspired step. He requested and succeeded in having a photograph taken of President Obama looking at the IT Dashboard and had it widely publicized. And things really started to happen.

Over six months he held tight 60-minute meetings on each and every project with the IT leaders and found that less than a third of the thirty-eight underway were on track. The majority were either dramatically over budget, staggeringly late, or remarkably over scoped. To the people who told him, “But you don’t understand, that’s not they way the government works” he all but replied, “Watch me” as he led the dismantling of what he calls a “culture of faceless accountability”. At the end of his review Vivek had killed four projects outright, reduced and razor focused the scope on eleven, and accelerated the delivery from an average of over two years to only eight months on twelve more. All while redirecting everyone’s attention from the management of aging and expensive legacy infrastructure to the liberation of the cloud.

As USCIO Vivek joined a tech evangelist’s vision to the compelling common sense that made Jimmy Stewart and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington part of the American narrative. Hearing him tell his own story was nothing less than inspiring: about us as people, about America as a nation, and about our future as it continues to unfold faster and faster. There is a better way. And one man with tenacity and vision can make it happen

image credit: nextgov

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How Companies Pursue GreatnessLou Killeffer is a Principal with Five Mile River Marketing. A versatile marketing strategist, Lou’s passion for communications and innovation has made him a trusted advisor to some of the world’s most enduring businesses and brands, from AT&T to UPS, where he helps enterprises embrace change, look ahead, and focus on sustaining success.

Lou Killeffer




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  1. David Paschane on June 25, 2013 at 11:20 am

    There is some wonderful growth in applied organizational science (see Daniel Pink and Seth Godwin), especially as it addresses issues of motivation and concentration in employees. This offers CIOs an opportunity to reconsider the “chatter tendencies” that distract employees from effective work, and concentrate more on the growth of performance engineering to create value (see CIOP13). Given your following of Vivek’s vision, do you see the FederalCIO/Salesforce alliance as potentially undermining this progress? Especially in government where less distractions are desperately needed for achieving the peoples’ work?

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