Vivek Kundra Interview

Fortune ran a great article on an interview Vivek Kundra, the first US CIO.  Here are a few excepts from the article

What were the biggest opportunities?

They were in four areas.

First, we wanted to look at this $80 billion that we’re spending every year on IT — how do we make sure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted on investments that don’t produce dividends for the American people?

Second was cracking down on inefficient infrastructure — billions of dollars on data centers.

Third, cybersecurity. We wanted to shift away from a paperwork reporting model to address a risk that was real, whether it’s nation states that are actively coming after our systems, or organized crime. You can’t confront that by writing reports.

And fourth, the most important opportunity was to tap into the ingenuity of the American people. For too long, Washington was designed with a view that Washington has a monopoly on the best thinking, and the reality is, it doesn’t. So we wanted to use technology to tap into the millions of Americans who want to create a more perfect union.

The IT dashboard was one of your high-profile initiatives. Does it now show the progress of all major federal IT projects?

Absolutely. You can see every major IT project and how we’re doing. Besides the picture of the person who’s responsible, I also decided to put up every company that had won those contracts. So all of a sudden, CEOs were coming to see me. A number of CEOs issued press releases around how all their projects are green. It created this incentive to perform.

Shining light alone is not sufficient, so I decided to go after projects that are not performing well. We were able to save $3 billion after terminating projects that were not working, or de-scoping them. We also halted $20 billion worth of financial systems last summer because these were projects we had spent billions on with very little to show to taxpayers.

One of your major efforts was Data.gov, which makes hundreds of thousands of government data sets available to the public in the hope that the private sector will create valuable ways to use all that data. Have the results been what you aimed for?

Absolutely. We launched it in May of 2009. It started with 47 data sets. Today there are over 390,000 data sets on Data.gov on every aspect of government operations from health care to education to what’s happening across state and local governments. There are 19 countries that have replicated Data.gov. Over 29 states have replicated the Data.gov platform, and a dozen cities across the country, from New York City to San Francisco, have launched these platforms.

In my view this is going to be a transformational platform. We’re now putting up money for competitions for developers and the average American to come in and create applications that the government couldn’t even imagine. When we initially launched this, somebody developed an app called Flyontime.us that allows you to see average delays of flights and people tweeting wait times at airports, so you can make an intelligent decision. Since then, search engines like Bing have used data that’s come out of Medicare and Medicaid that allows you to see how hospitals are rated by patients and outcomes from those hospitals. If you type the name of a hospital, right in your search results you can see that. An iPhone app allows an expectant mother, before she buys a crib, to scan that product and see whether it’s been recalled. It’s shifting power to third parties and recognizing that the government doesn’t have to build everything. It can create a platform very much like what the U.S. military did with GPS satellites that gave birth to an entire GPS industry, or what the National Institutes of Health did with the Human Genome Project that gave birth to personalized medicine.

Another IT tool, business analytics, helps companies spot improper payments, among other things. The Office of Management and Budget estimates the government lost $98 billion to improper payments in 2009, which sounds like a huge opportunity. Is it?

It is. On the Recovery Act [the stimulus bill], we worked with a company called Palantir, which is in business analytics. To prevent fraud, we were able to slice and dice and cube all this data to make sure that entities that were winning these contracts were appropriate. The ability to investigate and go through massive volumes of data allowed us to prevent it.

Now we’re taking that practice and applying it to Medicare, Medicaid, and other grant programs. Over half a trillion dollars in grants go to state and local governments and then to private sector companies, and the fraud, coupled with the error rate, is huge. That is a huge opportunity.

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