On December 9th Vivek Kundra, the U.S.Chief Information Officer (USCIO), released a “25 Point Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management.” Kundra acknowledges the cost of IT systems to the American people (~~$600billion during the past decade), and the reality that even with this investment the federal government lags behind private industry in both functionality and governance.

Kundra 25 Point PlanHighlights of the plan include a push towards data center consolidation, a “cloud first” policy for new IT projects (as well as IT refresh),a search and destroy mission looking for deadbeat and under-performing projects, as well as using professional program managers and acquisition specialists to streamline the purchase and implementation of IT systems. 

Sounds Good, But is it Real?

It is very possible the document was impressive and quite encouraging due to the talents of writers assigned to spin Kundra’s message. On the other hand, it all makes a lot of, well, plain good sense.

For example, on the topic of public private partnerships, and engaging industry early in the planning process.

Given the pace of technology change, the lag between when the government defines its requirements and when the contractor begins to deliver is enough time for the technology to fundamentally change, which means that the program may be outdated on the day it starts …

…In addition, requirements are often developed without adequate input from industry, and without enough communication between an agency’s IT staff and the program employees who will actually be using the hardware and software…

…As a result, requirements are too often unrealistic (as to performance, schedule, and cost estimates), or the requirements that the IT professionals develop may not provide what the program staff expect – or both.

This makes a lot of sense.  Face it, the government does not develop innovation or technology, private industry develops innovation and government, as the world’s largest IT users, consumes that technology.

And since the government is often so large, it is near impossible to for the government to collect and disseminate best practices and operational “lessons learned” at the same pace possible within private industry.  In private industry aggressive governance and cooperation with vendors are essential to survival and ultimate success as a company.

On Innovation

Small businesses in the technology space drive enormous innovation throughout the economy . However, the Federal Government does not fully tap into the new ideas created by small businesses…

…smaller firms are more likely to produce the most disruptive and creative innovations. In addition, with closer ties to cutting edge, ground-breaking research, smaller firms often have the best answers for the Federal Government

Kundra goes on to acknowledge the fact small companies are where innovation happens within any industry or market.  While Cisco, Microsoft, Google, and others such as Computer Associates have a wide range of innovative products and solutions, a large percentage of those ideas are from acquisitions absorbed in an effort to reinforce the large company’s market strategy.

Small, innovative companies produce disruptive ideas and technologies, and the federal government should not be prevented from exposure and potential purchase of products being developed outside of the Fortune 500.  Makes sense for the government, makes sense for the small business community.

Technology Fellows

Within 12 months, the office of the Federal CIO will create a technology fellows program and the accompanying recruiting infrastructure. By partnering directly with universities with well-recognized technology programs, the Federal Government will tap into the emerging talent pool and begin to build a sustainable pipeline of talent.

While projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Defense Advanced Project Research Agency (DARPA) have been around for a while, this is still a very refreshing attitude towards motivating both students and those who lead our students.

The American technology industry, while still the best in the world, works kind of like Cisco or Google. With a few exceptions, the skills and talent those companies need to maintain the competitive dominance in their market must be imported from other countries.  if you do not believe this, take a drive through Palo Alto, Milpitas, or stop for lunch on Tasman Drive in Santa Clara.  English is not always the dominant language.

However, that does not need to be the case, nor does the US tech brain pool need to revolve around Silicon Valley.  if the US Government and Kundra are true to this idea, then partnering with all levels of education throughout the United States to develop either high level technologies, or even small components of those technologies can only serve to increase the intellectual and subsequent technology capacity of our country.

People and companies rarely lose motivation when faced with attainable challenges or success – by nature they will gain additional and higher thresholds for additional successes. 

Cloud Computing is the Next Cyclone of Technology

Cloud Innovation as a CycloneOverall, everything in the 25 point plan eventually points back to cloud computing.  Like a low pressure system sucking in hot air and developing circulation, the CIO’s cloud computing strategy will continue to attract additional ideas and success for making Information and Communications Technology (ICT) efficient, and an enabling tool for our future growth.

Cloud Computing, within the context of the 25 point plan, enables data center consolidation, software innovation, public private partnerships, efficiency, transparency, “green” everything,

We need to replace these “stovepiped” efforts, which too often push in inconsistent directions, with an approach that brings together the stakeholders and integrates their efforts…

The cloud computing cyclone will not stop with the federal government.  Once the low begins to strengthen and develop circulation, it will continue sucking state government initiatives, local governments, the academic community, and industry into the “eye.” 

The financial benefits of converting wasted operational and capital budgets currently spent on building and maintaining inefficient systems into innovation and product development, or better program management for government and educational programs are essential in promoting economic growth, not to mention reducing a nightmare national deficit.

Hopping on the “Kundra Vision” Bandwagon

As Americans we need to expose ourselves to Kundra’s programs and strategy.  No strategy is perfect, and can benefit from the synergies of a country with 300 million citizens who have ideas, visions, and strong desires to contribute to a better America.  We need to push our ideas to both local and federal thought leaders, including the US CIO’s office.  Push through your representatives, through blogs, through your technology vendors.

If Kundra is good for his word, and this is the new vision for an American ICT-enabled future, your efforts will not be wasted.

If an individual can create a free email account in a matter of minutes, and a small business can create its entire financial system online in a couple minutes, then why must the government spend billions of dollars building (similar) systems that may not be sensitive in nature?

Vivek Kundra, the US Government’s Federal Chief Information Officer, wants to know why the commercial world can take advantage of applications and services available online through software as a service (SaaS) companies and cloud computing companies, while the US Government manages:

  • > 10,679 individual data centers
    • Including 8x GSA data centers
    • 23 Dept of Homeland Security data centers
  • 300 million customers
  • $76 billion annual IT budget
  • $19 billion in IT infrastructure

Vivek Kundra presented these questions, following with a high level briefing on how the US government will leverage cloud computing and modern Platform (PaaS), Infrastructure (IaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) technology to bring the US Government’s IT infrastructure up to world standards, and then exceed those standards to gain leadership in the world’s efficient use of technologies.

And he gets it. The briefing, at NASA Ames Research center, presented a project being managed by NASA Ames to build a model for bringing the US government into the next millennium of information and communications technology. The project, codename “Nebula,” will focus on a number of areas, including:

  • Consolidation of data center infrastructure
  • Development of new technologies such as containerized data centers
  • Massive sharing of compute and data center resource capacity for unclassified government agency use
  • Reduction of carbon footprint through better resource consolidation and reducing number of individual data centers
  • Faster provisioning of SaaS applications throughout government agencies

Kundra gave the example that in normal conditions it takes around 6 months from a user requesting a new application till the time it is delivered, at an annual cost of nearly $2.5 million. With SaaS and cloud computing the same application should take one day to provision, and reduce the annual fees for operating the application to around $800k.

2010 Marks the Beginning

The government, with the Nebula project will use the remainder of 2010 developing and executing pilot cloud-based projects, including deployment of containerized data centers. The prime user interface to these projects will be at apps.gov, which will support government agency users in quickly requesting, approving, and deploying SaaS applications for government agencies.

NIST Definition of Cloud Computing:

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models. (National Institue of Standards and Technology/NIST)

Commercial companies will work with the government and Nebula project to certify their applications to meet strict government privacy and data security standards. The general services Administration (GSA) will also work with commercial companies to develop a common standard for government certification. Today, many individual agencies have different set of certification requirements for software and hardware, requiring commercial companies to go through extended and costly certifications to meet the needs of different agencies.

The GSA will work with Nebula to create a single government standard certification which will be a one-stop-shop for commercial companies. Once passing the GSA standard certification, commercial companies will then be able to bid against all other agencies without concern of going through a second, third, or more additional certifications.

Everything mentioned in the briefing leads us to believe the US government, under the leadership of Vivek Kundra, is starting to “get it.” The briefing is available via YouTube (another application listed as being government and cloud friendly), is very well produced, informative, and gives us hope our government, at least within our ICT leadership, is going to aggressively exploit cloud technologies.

By 2011 each government agency will be required to consider virtualization and data center consolidation is all of their IT budget planning. Might be tough, might take a bit of time, but will definitely result in both a stronger government, and a more efficient ICT infrastructure supporting the government.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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