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Innovation, Mobility and Trust

Originally published November 15, 2011

The last week in October is usually captured by the specter of ghosts and goblins as Halloween takes over our hearts and minds. But if you are in the federal IT world, it is highly likely that you were in Williamsburg, Virginia – or felt you should have been – at the ACT-IAC Executive Leadership Conference (ELC). It is probably the premier conference in the government IT community, and a thousand senior IT executives from both government and industry usually attend.

Every year the ELC’s themes attempt to reflect the mood and priorities of federal IT, hence a lot of thought and debate goes into adopting the themes and preparing the agenda. The 2011 ELC did well in capturing much of what burns hot in the inboxes of federal CIOs: innovation, mobility and trust.

In case you are not familiar with ACT, IAC or the ELC, I will describe the basics. The American Council for Technology (ACT) is a non-profit educational organization created as a platform for government executives to share information and work jointly on IT issues.
The Industry Advisory Council (IAC) was established by ACT as a forum in which private-sector advice may be sought in an objective and vendor-neutral manner. ACT-IAC’s mission statement is “to bring industry and government executives together to exchange information, support professional development, improve communications and understanding, solve issues and build partnership and trust, thereby enhancing government’s ability to serve the nation’s citizenry.” (Additional information can be found at www.actgov.org.)

Now let’s go back to innovation, mobility and trust.

Innovation, primarily, involves the ability to do the same job with fewer resources. The “more with less” leitmotif has been around for a while in federal IT, but today it has an urgent focus in recognition that with the dramatically shrinking budgets demanded by the “Tea Party”- influenced Congress, the only way out will be through innovation. In other words, how can we find new ways of doing things that will allow us to accomplish the mission within the limits of the reduced resources we will have?

Innovation was dealt with at the ELC in two thrusts: business innovation and technology innovation. Business innovation focused on business processes that could be changed, transformed or eliminated and result in being able to do the job better, faster, cheaper. Technology innovation emphasized the need to look at IT less in terms of the “bells and whistles” that catch a CIO’s attention and more on the effectiveness and efficiency of the technology.

Mobility was centered on the explosion of mobile devices in the federal government. The Department of Defense alone counts one quarter of a million BlackBerrys. This means that the federal IT networks and infrastructure must be able to support an increasingly mobile federal workforce. The implications of this are enormous. Most agencies are addressing it on the fly as they move to create new processes and applications that are mobility-enabled. The realization that this is no longer about the BlackBerrys, iPhones or iPads, but rather about their apps and services, has thrown most CIOs into a spin as they look for solutions to the challenges of creating and managing an effective, efficient and secure mobile environment.

And this, of course, leads to trust. Security, or more appropriately, cybersecurity is ultimately about trust. But the fact that we can have a full thematic track on trust at the 2011 ELC is in itself remarkable. As a Beltway veteran of many years, I can attest that trust is a term that everyone pays lip service to, but it doesn’t command much attention. In 1994, I spoke to Congress about cyberethics and cyberspace in a statement that was all about the need for trust in the emerging wired society. No one paid much attention. A decade passed and in 2003 the Digital Government Institute announced a conference on “Building Trust in E-Government.” It had to be cancelled due to lack of interest.

So what has changed? The cybersecurity threat. This is the age of identity theft epidemics, Stuxnet attacks and massive privacy breaches. Defending the increasingly interconnected world from these threats presents a huge challenge, especially when it comes to protecting the networks and applications. Additionally, the move to mobile devices as the principal points for user connectivity adds difficulty and complexity. But as much as we would like to have technology as the guarantor of trust, the weakest link is still the human being and educating that individual civil servant becomes a very important part of the equation.

In all it was a fascinating conference, and kudos must go to the organizers. All ELCs share the leadership equally between government and industry, and the 2011 Conference Co-Chairs on the government side were Chris Smith (CIO, USDA) and Lee Holcomb (VP, Lockheed Martin).  They did an excellent job of running the event and keeping the keynoters – GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, DOD Deputy CIO Robert Carey and the new federal CIO Steve VanRoekel – focused on innovation, mobility and trust.

Where was business intelligence in all this? Front and center. The need to measure performance through analytics was a persistent theme in all three tracks. Without business intelligence, it is just not possible to determine whether or not innovation works, or if an environment is truly more or less secure. Data drives the metrics, because as Peter Drucker often said, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.”

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


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