What the New U.S. CTO and CIO Should Consider

By Dale Christian

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President Obama’s appointment of the first U.S. CIO and federal CTO on April 18, shows a significant shift in how the federal government is approaching technology. Achieving the goals of giving all Americans a voice and ensuring accountability for how the government spends money is a difficult and important task.

These two new positions present an unrivaled opportunity to reshape how the federal government pursues a public agenda by using the latest technological tools available. These positions, along with all public sector CIOs and CTOs, can work together to ensure change does happen. But successful change, within the government or within any business, requires certain steps. Understanding what steps to take will help clarify the path ahead.

Create a Roadmap to Integrate Resources

Most companies that fail often lack a clear roadmap. They lose their effectiveness because they don’t integrate their resources and don’t have a plan in place. Like businesses, the government needs to develop a roadmap to integrate its disparate systems and create more efficient agencies through the use of technology. However, it needs to recognize that integration is hard and must occur at many levels in IT. That includes processes, applications and infrastructure.

Integration will take many forms. From the citizen perspective, it will mean being able to provide information once and have it used by many government agencies and services. Similarly, it should allow citizens to access concise, meaningful information about government activities, regardless of which agencies or systems are involved in generating it. From the government perspective, it will mean that departments, agencies and states will have to cooperate at both a technical and process level to ensure consistent, accurate information is collected from and supplied to citizens.

Integrating security across these levels, and across applications, must be in place as well to provide a seamless, efficient infrastructure. By its nature, integration of disparate systems means a decentralized environment. While this is unavoidable, ways exist to integrate locally while connecting broadly. Using a service-based approach, companies can ensure success. By focusing on a service-oriented approach and standardizing how systems integrate and interface enables multi-channel use. Essentially, it enables one back-end system to serve multiple front-end channels including Web, mobile and desktops, for example.

Having multiple channels consume one common back-end service is not only a great example of reuse, but it reduces maintenance costs over time as updates only need to be done once as business changes occur.

Enhance Participation and Access by Citizens

The government needs greater participation from its citizens. The only way to achieve this is through increased access to information and enhanced self-service options for citizens. This will allow citizens to have more insights and to have a voice on the country’s policies and actions.

The U.S. government needs to decide what policies and processes to put in place to allow citizens greater access to data in a secure way. Technology is just the enabler. The policy decision arises when we address the transparency needs that come with the use of these technologies. For example, under what circumstances can citizen information be disclosed to agencies other than the one who originally collected it? Personal possessions in the physical world are protected by the Fourth Amendment. We need equivalent protections for digital information. The government is in a unique position to both set those standards by statute, and set the example by implementation.

Many industry self-service options are available to make the process simple and safe. At the state level, citizens can access licensing, permits and case management options. By leveraging the Internet, security protocols and open standards, the government can provide greater service while reducing costs and overhead. A huge portion of government services are information based. There should be a consistent and simple method of requesting and receiving those services. Whether it’s scientific grants, Medicare payments, or military contracting, the government should look for the lowest-friction method of conducting transactions.

Additionally, many social networking tools and technologies that consumers are comfortable with could be leveraged in both running the government as well providing services. For example, using Twitter to convey important information and communicate directly with citizens during disaster relief. Or, another example is using Facebook for law enforcement to help identify suspects, etc. Social networking tools allow direct engagement with citizens, rather than relying on the proxy of government employees or elected representatives. That poses challenges, but even more it creates opportunities for engagement, responsiveness, accuracy and better services.

Set the Standard for Privacy Regulation

Today, we find ourselves facing a dual challenge. Personal privacy is protected through a combination of federal and state statutes, regulations and voluntary industry codes of conduct. However, individual information is being collected and shared, exchanged and sold legally without notice or input by citizens. The whole system requires an upgrade but, the U.S. government cannot feasibly police the entire country. The government must set the standard and create an example of industries to follow.

It must regulate the use of data to protect citizens’ privacy as government agencies and systems become more integrated. Increased integration means more controls need to be put in place to regulate the use of data and protect citizens’ privacy. While transparency is needed, data security must be top of mind.

We need to build a proof of concept using the federal government as a case study for the rest of the nation. That concept must clearly illustrate how sound, privacy policies could enable citizen control over information and create greater efficiencies—and at less cost for the government. Unfortunately, most people only assume any shared information is either bad or a violation of their rights. Unless citizens can visualize how they personally will benefit, this perception will remain.

One way to address that perception would be to identify cases that require a citizen to volunteer information that could make their lives easier. It should happen not just in one transaction (paying taxes or license renewal), but across many. For example, one compelling scenario in the business world is health care. Providing personal information to providers, insurance companies and employees can lead to better health care, reduced hassle for the consumers and save the companies involved money. Privacy becomes much less of a concern when there are mutual benefits for the parties involved and the right steps are taken to ensure security of that data.

As more and more federal systems become integrated, protecting that data becomes even more crucial for agencies and U.S. citizens.

State a Clear Business Case

How problems are solved is just as important as the solution. CIOs and CTOs at companies across the country must make the business case for their IT vision to business executives, providing rationale for recommended solutions and showing the business costs associated with them. The U.S. CIO and CTO also should provide a rationale for their plans and make a clear business case for how citizen dollars are spent to improve the government’s IT infrastructure.

As taxpayers, we’re all partial owners of the millions of government servers, applications and IT systems. It is important to explain the value of IT investments in a way that citizens can understand and support. Just as with enterprises, that value can come in many forms, but the common thread of all good business cases is that they are presented to the right people, and address a pain or need that is relevant and material.

Finally, as the new CIO and CTO create their new vision, they have the opportunity to include those of us in the private sector in the dialog and formation of this vision. The new U.S. CIO and CTO can become the ultimate role models for others in their same positions, creating a mantra for efficient business that provides secure access to its constituents.

That would be good business and good government.

Tyson Hartman is Avanade’s global CTO and VP of Enterprise Technology Solutions. Tyson is responsible for Avanade’s technology vision and R&D investments. He also leads the worldwide strategy and team driving Avanade’s business in application development, enterprise infrastructure and managed services that provide solutions across the complete enterprise IT lifecycle.

As CIO and corporate VP, Dale Christian guides the development of technical infrastructure and applications architecture for Avanade. He also works closely with Microsoft to ensure Avanade’s position as an aggressive early adopter of Microsoft enterprise technologies. Dale joined Avanade after more than 14 years at Microsoft, where he held a variety of IT leadership positions in application development and architecture. Most recently he served as general manager of application development for IT and managed solutions.