By Ryan Kamauff
Steven VanRoekel gave an excellent keynote on Wednesday at the FOSE conference. Mr VanRoekel is a former Microsoft executive who has been in the Federal Government since 2009. He outlined the steps that he is pushing as the Federal CIO to improve IT throughout the government. He highlighted the pervasiveness of mobile technology, and how IT has moved from discretionary budgets to a strategic necessity, and business units that do not invest strategically in IT are often negatively impacted by that decision. VanRoekel’s path is a variety of steps that includes executive level buy-in, clear lines of communication, consolidation of IT assets and commoditization. These are all steps that can be accomplished in manageable pieces, but will add a great deal of aggregate value.
Despite the many challenges facing Federal employees (sequestration, limited budgets, extensive requirements and less than agile acquisition), VanRoekel believes that good management and strategy can lead the government along the path to ideal IT. Some of VanRoekel’s programs are already starting to show results, the digital government strategy and open data initiatives are creating opportunities for private firms to turn government big data into jobs and profits. Unlocking open data has enabled innovation and created new opportunities.
The path to ideal IT is not easy, it requires a great deal of work and planning from many key personnel. Executive buy-in means clear communication between the CIO and other “C” level executives, especially the CFO. This can lead to greater budgetary freedom for the CIO, who is then able to make more decisions. The path to ideal IT should enable delivery on long term projects, on budget and on time. VanRoekel advocates stealing from operating expenditures to move those funds into capital expenditures. Automating processes and cutting redundant services can help here. VanRoekel is cutting info calls to those that are necessary, which can help cut down on extraneous work.
The federal government is dedicating $14B to Cyber in the 2014 FY, and much of this will go to creating more secure networks. PIV cards for multi-factor authentication are also rolling out. Continuous monitoring is another capability that will be emphasized in 2014. VanRoekel is looking to better protect critical infrastructure, primarily through deeper information sharing. He believes that they must use this money to better shape the future cyber environment.
VanRoekel is hoping continuous monitoring systems can be tailored to satisfy FISMA and other reporting requirements, limiting manpower and resources spent on creating documents for the tri-yearly report. He wants federal IT decision makers to stop worrying about asset ownership and focus on sharing services that are already certified in the federal space. The ability to share certifications across the federal landscape, so 40 agencies are all performing C&A on the same piece of software. This will aid in speeding patch application to federal systems, limiting vulnerabilities.
The federal government is using the Technology Fellows program to unlock legacy data across federal agencies, opening it up in machine readable format. VanRoekel believes the focus on machine readable data will encourage trust in government and foster innovation. While there is the potential for the mosaic effect, in which multiple data sources come together to create security or privacy concerns, the federal government will be outlining all the data they will make machine readable. A true assessment of the economic impact of open government data has not been undertaken, but there is anecdotal evidence of job and revenue creation. The Fellows are not the only tool in the fight to help open up the data, there is a set of tools that fast track data into open APIs. While open data may put additional loads on government systems, VanRoekel believes this value-add is worth the additional IT strain.
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