Will Government IT Contracts Follow Vivek Kundra to Salesforce.com?


By Tony Kontzer

I have to admit, I didn't see this one coming.

When Vivek Kundra, the nation's first CIO, stepped down from his post earlier this year to accept a fellowship at Harvard, I crowed about the fact that his transparent decision was clearly intended, at least in part, to position him for a more lucrative private sector job.

But I was picturing him ending up in some high-profile CIO post at a Fortune 100 company. I never would have foreseen Kundra to jump into a sales role for a vendor, as he did this week when he joined Salesforce.com as executive vice president of emerging markets. I never would have expected such a transparent cash grab. At least not so soon.

That may sound cynical, but let's look at the facts. Kundra has been repeatedly lauded for forging a new direction for federal IT, one that seeks to slash costs and improve efficiency by getting as many agencies as possible to scale back their data centers and migrate their IT assets to the cloud. As a result, many federal agencies are evaluating their cloud options, especially now that Kundra's successor, Steven VanRoekel, is pushing for even more data center consolidation. Eventually, this will lead to a boatload of contracts for a handful of cloud vendors, with Salesforce being an obvious, and primary, candidate.

It's pretty clear that Marc Benioff, Salesforce's sly CEO, realized that having the nation's former CIO on staff would provide a huge boost to Salesforce's efforts to grab as much of that federal business as possible. (Kundra's title may seem to imply a focus on overseas markets, but if a federal government looking to beef up its cloud presence doesn't represent an "emerging market" to a vendor like Salesforce, then I don't know what does.)

Kundra may have only been the nation's CIO for a little over 2 years, but he left a wake of gushing fans who have lauded him as a rising, visionary IT leader. And there's no question that having Kundra sitting at the table across from Federal IT leaders as they make their decisions on where to spend their cloud computing dollars will prove to be a powerful sales tool. It's also safe to assume that Benioff will reward Kundra handsomely when those federal IT contracts start rolling in.

So, in other words, having declared that the federal government must turn to the cloud in order to shed its wasteful IT past and adopt more cost-effective and user-friendly IT platforms--admittedly sound thinking--Kundra, at the ripe old age of 37, has managed to maneuver himself into a position where he'll be one of the notable financial beneficiaries of that strategy.

If this was Kundra's plan all along, it's a Machiavellian stroke of genius that simultaneously earns my respect and turns my stomach.

And while there's little doubt that many more federal IT folks will make similar moves as the nation's cloud strategy takes shape, none of them will have been the nation's CIO. Well played, Kundra and Benioff. Well played.


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