Mark Amtower

COMMENTARY

Kundra wrong to attack industry

'Cartel' comment reveals simplistic, inaccurate view of government

On Aug. 30, in The New York Times (“Tight budget? Look to the cloud.”), former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra wrote that cloud computing could save the government massive amounts of money that had previously been spent on “inefficient software and hardware that is expensive to acquire and maintain.”

I am not writing here to debate the merits of cloud computing, although I am always suspect of anything where it is implied that a panacea is at hand, things that are “low-cost and maintenance free." We have seen this before with the advent of personal computers and productivity, computer networking and productivity, and other IT innovations along the way since the first mainframe was deployed before most of us were in the business.

I am here to dispute the inflammatory language that opens the opinion piece, openly suggesting that the top government contractors form an “IT cartel” intent on selling the government “inefficient software and hardware.”

The first definition of cartel from the New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd Edition) is “an association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.”

Using this kind of language, Kundra is intentionally perpetuating a myth about the contractor community that is both simplistic and inaccurate.

The “waste” perpetuated by the Kundra’s cartel is often the result of contracts being issued with vague requirements that need to be restated during the course of the contract’s life. The contracts and the statements of work accompanying these contracts were generated by the agencies and were generated by genuine needs of the agencies.

Again, while not arguing the pros and cons of cloud computing, Kundra uses some vague examples to support the use of cloud computing, such as Japan’s “Ministry of Economy and Industry estimates that the cloud computing market is likely to reach $20.1 billion by 2015.” Further, the cloud market in India “is projected to grow to $3 billion by 2015 and create 100,000 jobs.”

Apparently, efforts to migrate U.S. agencies to the cloud is hampered, “because of hypothetical security threats that serve the entrenched interests of the IT cartel.” 

It is easy to assign blame when one is merely a short-time visitor to this community, especially when you have the skill to “quickly” discover “vast inefficiencies” in the system.

Were these inefficiencies overlooked by Kundra’s predecessors?

I would suggest that part of the problem is the perpetual parade of part-time and short-time appointees who come in with preconceived notions about the contractor community, and who after a very short period of time discover vast inefficiencies and then propose an instant solution.

If it were only that easy…. Not that I have an opinion.

About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn.

Reader Comments

Mon, Sep 19, 2011

Wow, Old Sarge!!!! 80% reduction of IT O&M costs simply by adopting open source software solutions whenever possible? Can you provide some stats for this assertion? If it were that simple, it would have been done long ago. How's that saying go..."When budget's get tight, people get smart"?

Thu, Sep 15, 2011

Way to go Mark,

Wed, Sep 14, 2011 OldCIO DC

Thank you Mr. Amtower for an article that actually makes sense. They seem to be hard to come by these days. Having retired from government I have seen this scenario too many times. Find problems, provide a can't-lose solution and then head for the hills before it fails and you get held accountable. The cloud may very well be a viable future solution, but if you read the news "it ain't there yet".

Wed, Sep 14, 2011

Amen to the appointee/short-time visitor comments Mr. Arntower makes. This quick fix mentality is prevalent both in the upper levels of Government management and the CEO office of companies. Seldom are those who start these initiatives there when its time to make the system viable within the working environment. Many projects have failed due to the lack good management practices on both sides of the contract. The ability to improve entrenched, inertia-ladened systems successfully is an approach of breaking the tasks into small manageable tasks and the ability to define realistic goals within those tasks. Always beware those who start out a sentence, "All you've got to do is ...".

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 Jewels

I agree that open software could be part of the solution. I find it ironic, though, that on the one hand there's all this government pressure and regulation around cybersecurity, while at the same time, the government seemed to jump on the cloud bandwagon without considering the full impact. It was almost like, "we've gotta have cloud computing - we don't know what it is, but we've gotta have it!" And I had to laugh at Old Sarge's comment that the government "promote[s] capitalism..." I don't think the government has promoted capitalism in many decades.

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