Clouds, consolidation, culture: making federal IT less 'horrible'

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra opens up with his frustration with siloed, legacy federal systems.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

In a new interview with Politico, the dirt-inside-the-beltway site, federal CIO Vivek Kundra didn't hold back on his thoughts about the world's largest IT consumer:

“Federal IT is horrible," he reportedly said. "That’s why we’ve made it a priority to aggressively crack down on wasteful IT spending and turn around poorly performing projects.”

Kundra says when he took his position in 2009, he was surprised how much government technology management lagged, even though it spends $80 billion a year on the stuff. Even now, he says, he and other government workers can't use their own personal devices for getting work done.

Kundra says he is aggressively pursuing cloud services for government agencies, as well as pushing a data center consolidation effort.  The Politico article reports that the General Services Administration uses Google Apps to power email and other software tools, the Department of Agriculture uses Microsoft’s products, and efforts are no underway to move email systems to the cloud.

Kundra also employed an IT dashboard to track IT spending, and says he has been able to wring $3 billion in savings simply by being able to get an enterprise view of where money is being spent. (Thanks to John Dodge for surfacing this interview.)

But, as anyone who's come into far smaller organizations and attempted to tighten up technology spending knows, turning an oceanliner around is far easier said than done. In an article in Federal Computer Week, Mark Cohn and Peter Gallagher (CTO and partner at Unisys Federal Systems) reiterate Kundra's call for clouds and consolidation, but points out that to get there, the government needs to adopt a "culture of reuse." This is essential in such a huge, complex organization with deeply embedded legacy processes, systems and silos.

"Agency CIOs face a seemingly insurmountable funding obstacle. In the face of shrinking budgets and essential O&M to-do lists, how can agencies align critical applications with the cloud-first agenda? Thousands of customized applications, built over decades, contain the business logic required to execute critical government functions in a complex digital fabric that is rarely cloud-ready....  To benefit from cloud computing, we must embrace a culture of reuse for all types of applications. Otherwise, the cost and complexity of maintaining disparate systems will eventually overwhelm our ability to respond to users’ expectations."

Cohn and Gallagher advocate a next-generation service oriented architecture to build more sharable infrastructure and software services. "Today, an incremental service-enablement approach is a pragmatic alternative for agencies. It represents a new style of goal-driven IT governance that focuses on shared assets."  They say Platform as a Service offers the best route for many agencies for the move to cloud.

What do you say, readers involved with federal IT systems -- are things that "horrible," or are you seeing progress per Vivek's cloud vision?

(Photo by the author.)

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