Uncle Sam's IT Dashboard
By Tony Kontzer
Maybe, just maybe, there's light at the end of the government IT tunnel, and CIOs at agencies across the country--and beyond--have U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra to thank.
In a post published on the White House blog Thursday, Kundra announced that the federal government will release the open-source code behind its successful IT Dashboard and the TechStat Toolkit that provides the dashboard's guts. This opens the door to let state and local governments reuse the hard work of Kundra's staff, rather than re-inventing the wheel.
"The IT Dashboard has helped the Federal Government to better manage its IT investments, and now that its code is freely available--through a format known as 'open source'-it can help any organization do the same," Kundra wrote.
More importantly, Kundra's move just might help to spur a reversal of the culture of waste that has long permeated government IT. The amount of money that's been squandered as local, state and federal agencies have invested in redundant technology is surely staggering--not that anyone has a clue what the actual figure would be.
Agencies of all sizes have developed their own data centers, Web infrastructures, E-commerce engines, GPS data stores...you get the picture, and it's not a pretty one. With each agency having grappled with painful program and service cuts during the recession and its aftermath, it boggles the mind to think of how many of those cuts could have been prevented through more efficient use of IT dollars.
But let's not dwell on the past. Kundra has taken a potentially major step toward a new era of openness and efficiency in government IT. Pretty much every agency CIO I've talked to in the past couple of years has expressed a desire not only to share IT investments with other agencies, but also to tap IT tools and services in which other agencies have already made the necessary investments. It's such a logical goal, but one that's been slow in developing, mostly because government IT departments had gotten so use to being wasteful that they've had to focus first on getting their own in-house investment strategies under control.
That said, government CIOs are ready to establish a culture of sharing and re-use. And when the technology is a performance-monitoring tool built using budget-friendly open source code, all the better.
"A high priority and major challenge for state chief information officers is monitoring the performance of IT investments," Kyle Schafer, West Virginia's CTO and the current president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, said in a statement applauding Kundra's announcement. "Because of current state budget issues, having access to open source modules for these critical functions is very valuable."
According to an informal poll conducted by Schafer, CIOs from 38 states and territories are interested in downloading, testing and evaluating the Feds' IT Dashboard and TechStat Toolkit. Meanwhile, Kundra wrote that Chicago CIO Jason DeHaan has expressed interest, as has Maarten Hillenaar, CIO of The Netherlands.
Hillenaar's interest is especially eye-opening, causing one to imagine a global IT infrastructure serving all the world's governments. It may sound like an IT fantasy dreamed up by Gene Roddenberry, but then, those hokey Star Trek communicators don't look so silly in a world with more mobile devices than toothbrushes.