Canada needs an IT leader like Vivek Kundra

AUSTIN, TX. While the Canadian government appears to befollowing some of the blueprint laid down by former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra withits Shared Services Canada plan, the government could also learn some valuablelessons beyond technology changes.

Speaking at this week’s Dell World conference in Austin, Tx., outlined thechallenges he faced with changing people as opposed to just setting atechnology policy.

The former U.S. CIO said that there’s a reason why dealing with the governmentisn’t as simple as booking a flight or buying a book online.  “And it’s not due to lack of funding,”Kundra said, referring to the government’s $80 billion yearly federal IT spend.

Kundra said the government consolidated “13 e-mail systems that weren’t talkingto each other” at one federal department alone. His team also implemented a “zerogrowth” policy for new data cetnres that stressed “cloud first” for governmentIT projects.

“The federal government should basically have three digital Fort Knoxs when itcomes to its infrastructure,” he said, referring to the need to shrink down tojust a few government-run data centres.

In its three-year plan to consolidate government e-mail systems, reducegovernment data centres and streamline department networks, the Canadiangovernment is implementing many of the intiatives that worked south of theboarder.

But while the Conservative government has followed Kundra’s “don’t throw goodmoney after bad money” approach, the former U.S. CIO did a lot more than justcost cutting.

Right off the bat, Kundra pushed forward an IT dashboard plan aimed atidentifying which departments and IT leaders were responsible for whichprojects. This was motivated by Kundra’s first visit to the White House, wherehe was handed a stack of .pdf documents outlining a list of “27 IT projectsthat were years behind schedule and hundreds of millions over budget.”

With the IT dashboard, Kundra put a picture of a government CIO right next tothe IT project they were responsible for. This puts the emphasis, he said, onbuilding projects with fast deliverables as opposed to “boiling the oceam” andtrying to create a massive in-house solution.

“You don’t build an airline to travel or a car company to move around,” Kundrasaid, pointing to the need for IT shops to focus on their core compentenciesand outsource the rest.

This move also attempts to change the culture of government IT, forcingindividuals and teams to take public ownership of the projects they undertake.

Additionally, Kundra’s team built a labs environment which strived to test andimplement innovative technologies as fast as possible.

“The new generation born digital isn’t going to wait around for CIOs andenterprises,” he said.

“You need to introduce the same Darwinian pressure that you see in the consumerspace to enterprise IT.”

While the little we’ve heard about the Conservative government’s SharedServices Canada is promising, I can’t help but think a big picture IT thinkerlike Kundra is missing from Ottawa.

The idea that corporate culture has to be changed along with technology issomething that Kundra obviously understood. I’m hoping federal IT leaders inCanada can borrow more of his ideas than just straight up cost cutting.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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