Big shoes to fill

We asked our experts about the priorities and challenges faced by the yet-to-be named chief technology officer.

Our experts: Dendy Young, former chairman and chief executive officer, GTSI Corp.; Harold Youra, president, Alliance Solutions LLC; and Christine Zmuda, strategic engagement manager, Microsoft Dynamics.

How will the federal chief technology officer impact government contractors?

Youra: The old joke in federal is that it takes at least three generations to make an impact. Look at how long it took Clinger-Cohen [Act], and some may argue that the impact is yet to come.

A big variable is his or her budget authority. With authority, the impact will be more immediate. If the CTO does not have the authority, they will spend much of their time making visionary speeches.

As a new position, the federal CTO will start a process of creating a series of data-collection points. There are processes that will need to be established. He or she will be developing the foundation for growing the CTO position.

Zmuda: The right leadership and the right empowerment at the CTO level could be a very exciting time for government contractors. The majority of successful contractors create value by providing leading-edge technology solutions and services. A CTO looking at the big picture and advising openly on priorities could create amazing new market opportunities.

It will be key for the CTO to communicate technology standards well in advance of adoption so contractors can gear their solutions toward those standards.

My guess is with the increased emphasis toward technology standardization you will see even more governmentwide contracts as opposed to agency contracts. But that does make it harder for the midsize contractor to compete as the larger contracts are typically awarded to the larger players.

What should the top priorities be?

Young: I believe the federal government’s responsibilities lie, among other factors, in creating a safe environment for people to produce in and by creating a legal infrastructure with the right motivations to ensure our country’s competitiveness.

To those ends, a CTO’s responsibilities lie first in protecting our people from the attackers of our Internet. The CTO should take the necessary steps to protect first the government and then people from bad guys outside our borders. Then the CTO should focus on making us highly competitive in computing technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and energy self-sufficiency.

Youra: The CTO will need to understand how different agencies and departments utilize technologies to accomplish a similar mission. I suspect the CTO will focus time looking for the highest return by using best practices with particular products or processes. The national broadband initiative under the Recovery Act may be one of the first places for the CTO to help shape. Being the first one out of the box, they will have to also work on establishing their authority with the agencies.

Zmuda: Security will always be a priority. That encompasses not only secure networking but also ensuring the ability to communicate when disaster strikes.

There were strong lessons learned following Hurricane Katrina. One of my proudest moments as a Microsoft employee was seeing the footage of relief workers on the ground in New Orleans using Microsoft Groove technologies to help disconnected family members reunite. Remedying gaps in first responder systems should be a priority.

I also think there is a tremendous amount of upside in better collaboration across agencies. If government agencies shared best practices like the private sector, there could be great savings and increased job satisfaction within the government ranks.

What are the biggest challenges?

Young: The challenge is to stimulate human creativity without imposing constraints on those positive behaviors: Taxes should be low, regulation should be low, and rewards should be high.

As always, the biggest challenges will be found on Capitol Hill, trying to get Congress to understand human motivation and to facilitate these goals will be nigh impossible.

The CTO role will require persuasion and persistence and perseverance.

Zmuda: Biggest challenge will be picking your IT investment areas and staying relevant. As in the private sector, picking a few likely early adopters and proving success on key initiatives will be important to gaining credibility and building momentum across agencies. It may also be challenging to keep mindshare on IT policy given the ever-growing financial crisis we are facing.

Reader Comments

Mon, Mar 9, 2009 David Coakley

This "new era of procurement reform" will be interesting to witness. Reforming how the Feds procure products and services is going to be a daunting task and not something we should expect to be smooth or popular amongst buyers or contractors. The reformers will need to keep their blinders on as they break apart a crusty old procurement system that has very deep roots.

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