7 takeaways from someone who runs a half-billion-dollar IT operation

How the CIO of the U.S. General Services Administration promotes fresh thinking in technology.

With 17,000 users and 500 IT employees, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is a far-reaching and complex technology operation. Yet, it's a pretty tight ship, Vala Afshar observes in a new post at Huffington Post. 

Casey_Coleman_CIO US General Services Administration
Casey Coleman, CIO, US General Services Administration

Vala recently spoke with Casey Coleman, the agency's CIO, to glean some of her secrets on what it takes to successfully run a forward-thinking $500-million-a-year IT operation (actually, maybe "secrets" isn't the best term, as Coleman seems to apply common-sense management to keep things moving forward at an impressive clip):

1. Go First: GSA is a provider of business and technical services to agencies within the federal government, so it makes sense to keep on top of leading-edge technologies. GSA was "the first agency to move to a cloud-based email and collaboration platform which provides significant cost savings and improvements to security, mobility and performance," Vala relates. For a huge disruptive technology such as cloud or mobile, Coleman encourages and supports employees to experiment, pilot, and innovate with the new technology. This may run counter to government corporate culture, but GSA does it.

2.  Break Down the Walls, Literally and Figuratively: GSA got rid of its walled offices, and now has collaborative workspaces in which employees "book" the spaces they need on a daily basis. Two-thirds of GSA employees now telework.

3. Technology for Business Sake (Not Technology Sake): A lesson that needs to be repeated in the private sector as well. Coleman keeps hammering this point withiin GSA. How much money does the technology save? How does it improve end user and customer satisfaction?

4. Deliver Rapidly and Frequently: GSA's IT department recognizes that many non-IT units could buy into technology solutions without IT's involvement. That's why the IT department has to be as agile as possible, working closely with users and getting solutions out the door as rapidly as possible.

5. Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate: Put social media to work to enhance communications.

6. Keep Things in Harmony: In Coleman's words: "I think of the CIO today as being a choreographer or a conductor of an orchestra, bringing various services together and choreographing the delivery of those services."

7. Deliver Routine Services in an Excellent Fashion: Again, Coleman's words: "You build credibility when the network is up and apps are routinely accessible and that gives you a platform to do more. It is essential to build relationships, personal trust and credibility within the business."