“If you had 15 minutes alone with President Bush, what is the one critical issue you would bring to his attention?” Now, that might have been a dicey proposition for the POTUS if asked at a different D.C. venue today, but in the context of the ExecutiveBiz CIO Series Event held this morning at the WestWood Country Club in Vienna, Virginia, the question was a very good one.
The hypothetical was posed by the event’s moderator Barry West, Executive Vice President of SE Solutions. West asked the two featured speakers – Casey Coleman, CIO of the General Services Administration, and Venkatapathi (P.V.) Puvvada, VP and CTO of UNISYS – what critical Federal IT issue they would bring to the President’s attention if given 15 minutes of his time. Coleman deftly deferred to P.V., who said he would focus on the supply chain problem that exists in terms of available talent, and how there is a critical need to educate and attract highly-skilled IT workers.
Prior to West opening the floor for questions, the two speakers spent some time outlining key issues facing the Federal IT (and CIO) community. At the GSA, Coleman is responsible for aligning technology with GSA strategic business objectives, with a primary focus on leading and implementing the effective and efficient acquisition and management of information technology solutions across GSA. Coleman manages the Agency's $500 million IT program, overseeing management, acquisition and integration of the GSA information resources. Coleman related to the audience that she would like to see more of this budget go towards innovative, forward-thinking IT products and services, but due to the aging legacy infrastructure, nearly 80% flows to O&M.
Two areas that Coleman and the GSA are focused on right now, she added, are infrastructure consolidation and telework. And Coleman spoke of the critical role technology providers will play in empowering telework through innovative IT. What are the stakes to more government workers embracing telework, Coleman queried the crowd. “Well just imagine if the beltway traffic every day could be just like it is on a Federal holiday.” That got everyone’s attention.
P.V. followed up Coleman’s theme on aging legacy systems and infrastructure, highlighting that the big challenges for Agency CIOs revolve around security and privacy (as a result of aging systems) and how to end the O&M spending cycle because legacy systems are so difficult to replace.
After the two speakers covered some of the most pressing Federal IT issues, West pressed the pair on key areas top of mind for everyone in the room. How will the coming Administration change impact the business of government? Have mandates such as FISMA made a tangible difference? And, perhaps most interesting, West postulated that the CIO is in some cases losing his/her seat the table, and at some organizations now reports to the CFO or another business manager.
Coleman acknowledged that security remains a moving target, and that while FISMA offers a valuable snapshot of security compliance at a given point in time, this must be matched by a commitment to operational security (i.e. – IDS, access controls). P.V. added that a big challenge with security is a cultural one: decision makers still in many cases will retrofit security after the fact rather than building security into a network from the ground up.
West and P.V. both expressed concern on behalf of the government contractor community with how the departures of Cong. Davis, GAO head David Walker, and other government leaders with a wealth of knowledge will impact the business of government – and who will replace them.
It was a lot to digest for one morning – especially after a stacked buffet of eggs, bacon and hash browns. But the speakers hit all the key points, the audience followed up with provocative questions, and everyone left the ExecutiveBiz event, sponsored by Technical Communities, with much to ponder.