Apr 28 2015

GITEC 2015: CIOs Say Innovation Starts with Them

Federal technology leaders challenge themselves to innovate as budgets shrink.

While they admit it would be easier to just leave innovation to industry, a number of federal CIOs said they believe developing or finding innovative technologies is a crucial part of their job.

Gary Washington, CIO of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said his goal is to use emerging technologies that can save the department money, which he can then reinvest in other technologies or put toward his agency’s mission.

In a nutshell: “If we’re innovative in the right ways, that means never needing to ask for the money to do some of the things that we want.” Washington’s sentiments echo those of former U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel, who routinely preached the gospel of “cut and invest,” which called for federal technology leaders to do as Washington has done.

Washington’s comments came on Monday as part of a panel on transforming federal technology services at the 2015 GITEC Summit in Baltimore. Approximately 80 percent of federal technology budgets are believed to go toward operations and maintenance, giving federal technology leaders a sliver of their budget to meet executive mandates and bring in new technology.

Chad Sheridan, CIO of USDA’s Risk Management Agency, agreed that federal CIOs need innovation to be a key part of their job — in part, to help them better evaluate the solutions industry brings forward.

“In a time of flat or declining budgets, we need to know when smoke is being blown at us or when we should be taking advantage of a new technology,” Sheridan said. “As CIOs, it’s important we stay plugged in to that.”

John Sprague, NASA’s deputy chief technology officer for IT, said his agency has succeeded in getting its employees to champion innovation, asking them to submit ideas for innovative solutions to problems, which his office then reviews. Those that pass muster receive a small amount of funding (up to $30,000) to test the project.

“It’s been incredibly successful,” Sprague said.

Pamela Dyson, CIO of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said her department has invested in Big Data analytics in hopes of getting more value from its data to make up for declining budgets. She said the agency went from solutions that could mine thousands of lines of data to one that could tackle billions, bringing with it a deeper understanding of SEC’s work that could help the agency run more efficiently.

“Vendors bring innovation, but it’s up to CIOs to own innovation within our agency,” Dyson said. “We are the ones that own the strategy and have a deep belief in the mission. It’s our role to continue to drive that. Both industry and government have their roles in this process, but it is up to us in government to be the ones pushing it forward.”

Galina Peshkova/ThinkStock

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