Congrats on Obama’s CTO choice!

Reading the articles these past 12 hours and wanted to say, I have to agree with many of the people’s opinions extolling the selection of Aneesh Chopra as the new CTO of the Obama Administration including Tim O’Reilly and Alan Davidson. To quote Tim:

“Aneesh Chopra is a rock star. He’s a brilliant, thoughtful change-maker. He knows technology, he knows government, and he knows how to put the two together to solve real problems. We couldn’t do better. “

I, myself, have also been knee-deep in various Government 2.0 projects in recent weeks, and must admit in the wisdom of having someone who understands both technology and government bureaucracy.

In one of my engagements, I met with a number of CIOs, deputy CIOs and other members of the technology community of a large Northeastern state, and I was encouraged by the restrained frustration they felt in wanting to do new things, but were concerned about the bureaucracy that they all felt might hamstring their progress. My most poignant story came from one of the project managers who described their outreach program for helping citizens with insurance issues, and when we discussed the idea of “crowdsourcing“, he rightly introduced me to the legal issues that a state government might face with information coming from a government source that may or may not be correct.

In the Government 2.0 Camp event in DC last month, there were some incredible people from the IRS that have really stretched the horizon working on building a community that will expand the reach of services, but always have to be cognizant of the constraints of the law and mission of their organization.

And at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco earlier this month, Andrew McLaughlin described the issues that the government faces when attempting to address the need for transparency while maintaining the safety and security of the nation.

In all cases, the need for an understanding of the bureaucratic lay-of-the-land is paramount in the largest business organization on the planet. While he may not have a technical background (his degrees are in public policy), I wish him nothing but the best in resolving the many issues he has to face.

Chief Performance Officer

One thing that may be overlooked in most stories is the announcement of Jeffrey Zients as Chief Performance Officer – a role which I have become intimately familiar with over the past five years. When you place a CIO with a CTO, the CIO’s role is often to deal with the budgetary issues of the organization, changing policies that govern the business practices within an organization. The CTO (in a startup) usually focuses on new technologies and is supposed to be familiar with the issues that can make or break a product direction – in the case of government, the goal is to understand the issues that will shape the public policies that can affect the infrastructure of the nation as a whole.

But the role of CTO and CIO rarely has any performance metrics on them – aside from revenue and costs – how to make money (grow the GDP) or to save money (reduce the costs within the organization). In the case of a CIO of such a large organization, someone must take the lead in understanding other secondary and tertiary benefits for optimization in the long run. TO this, I am happy to see someone had the forethought to consider this role.

Best of luck to the team.

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2 Responses to Congrats on Obama’s CTO choice!

  1. Matt V says:

    Wondering what you think of this article on one of Chopra’s friends who is in the CIO spot? Is this just DC business as usual?

  2. Sanford says:

    Matt – can not really say anything to this. I met Vivek at PdF09 this year and he was an engaging, intelligent person. As for an $18M website – that is surprising – which has me wondering where the costs come from. But I have heard many times how government always pays a higher rate for all services – which I never fully understood.

    When Vivek and I spoke – he was looking for people who could take project management skills and apply them to government – while keeping true to cost issues and the original remit. The challenge about DC is there is a very tight network of people who support each other.

    When I did the Kerry Campaign, the first issue I addressed was the incredible cost of internet bandwidth we were paying to Akamai at the time. In 2003, they were charging us $1600/M with overage after 3M. Compared to a commercial rate of $400 (or so) / M – this was outrageous. I found out later, after negotiating them to a $360/M deal for the campaign, that the reason for the price differential was that it was through the “government” sales office – which has different expectations on performance (e.g. better than 5-nines performance). While I appreciate the concept, it is not what government always needs. There is such a thing as a tradeoff in business and engineering – and I know there is in government.

    As for Vivek – I know nothing gets really rolling at least for a year. Give the man the time to breathe. His background is one thing – his performance as the CIO of DC is another.

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