Govtech 2.0 is a reality in DC

DC's CTO Vivek Kundra runs IT like a Web 2.0 startup. The result? Millions of dollars saved, happy IT professionals and numerous new innovative services for citizens. Sound like a candidate for the Obama Administration?
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

Wondering what technology management may look like in the Obama administration? Take a look at the District of Columbia's tech operations under CTO Vivek Kundra. The Washington Post offers an in-depth look at the style of the manager who serves as a tech advisor to Obama and may yet be tapped for a larger role in the new administration.

Kunda has moved DC's operations into the 21st century with such radical ideas as:

  • Not accepting outrageous consulting fees as standard operating procedure.
  • Posting the bidding process on YouTube
  • Using Google Apps to increase transparency
  • Sponsoring a development contest to encourage outside developers to write Web and cellphone applications that enable citizens to better access data.
"I expected to get maybe 10 entries, but we got 47 apps in 30 days," Kundra said. He said he spent $50,000 for the contest and prize money, and estimates he saved $2.6 million over what it would have cost to hire contract developers. "I don't want to buy technology the old way," he said. "Three years ago, D.C. schools spent $25 million to deploy a human resources software program. It failed, and not a single person was fired," Kundra said as he rushed between meetings. "And they had the audacity to ask for more money. How is that an intelligent use of taxpayer money?"
But DC's bureaucracy has resisted, which is not surprising to anyone who's had to interact with it. Agencies have been less than enthusiastic about making "their" data transparent. "Sure, it's sometimes hard to get people on board. But I keep pushing," he says. As a former entrepreneur, Kundra brings a start up, Web 2.0 mentality into government service, say those that know him. And that is critically needed. Venture capitalist Arun Gupta notes that a startup can do in weeks what it takes government years to do.
Vivek is someone who can bridge those sectors to really unleash innovation. You have to have the confidence to say, 'I don't need to control everything.' That's very much a Web 2.0 mentality. Is that the panacea to everything? Probably not. But it's a step in the right direction.

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