How can we judge enterprise-class CTOs and CIOs? Rank them on the Kundra Scale

September 16, 2009
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Vivek_Kundra2I’ve had the pleasure of watching and studying many enterprise class CIOs and CTOs. And I’ve performed CIO duties and once was an enterprise CTO myself. In my opinion, enterprise CIOs and CTOs have it really, really hard. The bigger the enterprise the harder it can be to get anything done. There are lots of reasons for that. Part of the challenge is that large enterprises have complex IT environments frequently made up of masses of legacy equipment. And the bigger the enterprise, the more entrenched people (and their processes) are, so that can be an impediment to progress. And in all enterprises, especially the big ones, everyone looks at IT as a cost center and is working hard to reduce the IT spend. That can make change hard since modernization takes money.

The largest, hardest to change bureaucracy in the Western world is the US Federal Government. The US Federal Government arguably has the most important missions in the globe and requires an extensive, large, complex IT environment to carry out those diverse missions. And this IT, like the rest of the US Government, is funded by Congress in ways that are not always strategically aligned with the desires of the federal IT

Vivek_Kundra2I’ve had the pleasure of watching and studying many enterprise class CIOs and CTOs. And I’ve performed CIO duties and once was an enterprise CTO myself. In my opinion, enterprise CIOs and CTOs have it really, really hard. The bigger the enterprise the harder it can be to get anything done. There are lots of reasons for that. Part of the challenge is that large enterprises have complex IT environments frequently made up of masses of legacy equipment. And the bigger the enterprise, the more entrenched people (and their processes) are, so that can be an impediment to progress. And in all enterprises, especially the big ones, everyone looks at IT as a cost center and is working hard to reduce the IT spend. That can make change hard since modernization takes money.

The largest, hardest to change bureaucracy in the Western world is the US Federal Government. The US Federal Government arguably has the most important missions in the globe and requires an extensive, large, complex IT environment to carry out those diverse missions. And this IT, like the rest of the US Government, is funded by Congress in ways that are not always strategically aligned with the desires of the federal IT leadership (I’ve heard it said that it is like having a board with 535 directors controlling your funding). And the many acquisition, security and IT laws are complex and tough to operate under. Add to that the fact that the critically important federal missions drive IT decisions and you get the point. Federal IT is hard.

I didn’t mean to whine there, but wanted to give some context relevant to this assessment: The most relevant measure of a CIO or CTO is what they can get done. Of course it matters how they get things done. Like other executives, CIOs and CTOs must be honest and ethical and should treat others with respect. But in most cases the CIOs and CTOs I know who have issues in those areas don’t get things done to begin with. So, back to my key point: The real measure of a CIO or CTO is what they get done.

Hold that thought for a minute while I make another point.

Vivek Kundra has proven himself by excelling as the CIO of the largest IT environment on the globe. I don’t know of anyone else who could have gotten the results he did.

Which means, if we are grading on a curve, Vivek gets the A+ and we measure others against his accomplishments.

Lets do a quick review of what he has done in his short time in the federal enterprise:

  1. He has made the federal CIO council cool. CIO’s I have chatted with are really excited and happy to be engaged in that collective. That group has been operating for years and there has long been some great civil servants working with the CIO council, but it is something different now because of Vivek Kundra. You can get a bit of feel for that yourself if you check out the new way their site looks at http://cio.gov Don’t the faces there look happy? Doesn’t the site make you want to work in federal IT?
  2. He has encouraged agencies to explore new ways of reaching out to citizens and new ways to serve their employees. This has the backing of the President, who issued a memo on Transparency and Open Government the day after taking office. But we have to credit Vivek with the constant follow-up.
  3. He rolled out new ways to visualize IT information, and did it in a way that we citizens can interact with the data ourselves. For more on that see: http://it.usaspending.gov/. And he did that in a way that makes it easy for users to extract that data and graphics in multiple ways and embed them in other sites.
  4. He led establishment of new ways to expose data from the federal space, and brought together new interfaces via http://data.gov
  5. He has helped bring about new implementations of cloud computing in the federal space, including constructs for private clouds and also a new apps store. Casey Coleman of GSA just announced this new apps store at http://apps.gov and it is already a bit hit.
  6. He has leveraged social media in ways that show federal agencies the power of social media. Without that leadership many would not be moving in that direction. This leadership by example is very important in a large enterprise.
  7. And, Vivek Kundra has embraced constructs like Gov2.0 and takes time out to engage the community in conferences like the Gov2.0 Summit. That is very much appreciated.

That’s a short list. Now I wonder what Vivek has in store for us next. I’m hoping he will tackle ways to enhance both functionality and security in the federal space. We really need some fresh leadership there. Federal missions require IT that is reliable and resilient, and all federal missions require special protection for the data. Some federal data contains information on citizens and for privacy purposes must be protected. Other federal data contains information on military secrets and intelligence sources and Presidential intentions and all that must be guarded. I imagine these are things that Vivek will be working on next. These are hard problems. But clearly he is up to the challenge.

Related posts:

  1. Vivek Kundra: Still the Alpha CTO and now the First Fed CIO
  2. OMB on CIOs: Some context for the enterprise CTO
  3. Vivek Kundra: The Alpha CTO



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