What the New U.S. CTO and CIO Should Consider

President Obama’s appointment of the first U.S. CIO and federal CTO on April 18, shows a significant shift in how the federal government is approaching technology. Achieving the goals of giving all Americans a voice and ensuring accountability for how the government spends money is a difficult and important task.

These two new positions present an unrivaled opportunity to reshape how the federal government pursues a public agenda by using the latest technological tools available. These positions, along with all public sector CIOs and CTOs, can work together to ensure change does happen. But successful change, within the government or within any business, requires certain steps. Understanding what steps to take will help clarify the path ahead.

Create a Roadmap to Integrate Resources

Most companies that fail often lack a clear roadmap. They lose their effectiveness because they don’t integrate their resources and don’t have a plan in place. Like businesses, the government needs to develop a roadmap to integrate its disparate systems and create more efficient agencies through the use of technology. However, it needs to recognize that integration is hard and must occur at many levels in IT. That includes processes, applications and infrastructure.

Integration will take many forms. From the citizen perspective, it will mean being able to provide information once and have it used by many government agencies and services. Similarly, it should allow citizens to access concise, meaningful information about government activities, regardless of which agencies or systems are involved in generating it. From the government perspective, it will mean that departments, agencies and states will have to cooperate at both a technical and process level to ensure consistent, accurate information is collected from and supplied to citizens.

Integrating security across these levels, and across applications, must be in place as well to provide a seamless, efficient infrastructure. By its nature, integration of disparate systems means a decentralized environment. While this is unavoidable, ways exist to integrate locally while connecting broadly. Using a service-based approach, companies can ensure success. By focusing on a service-oriented approach and standardizing how systems integrate and interface enables multi-channel use. Essentially, it enables one back-end system to serve multiple front-end channels including Web, mobile and desktops, for example.

Having multiple channels consume one common back-end service is not only a great example of reuse, but it reduces maintenance costs over time as updates only need to be done once as business changes occur.

Enhance Participation and Access by Citizens

The government needs greater participation from its citizens. The only way to achieve this is through increased access to information and enhanced self-service options for citizens. This will allow citizens to have more insights and to have a voice on the country’s policies and actions.

The U.S. government needs to decide what policies and processes to put in place to allow citizens greater access to data in a secure way. Technology is just the enabler. The policy decision arises when we address the transparency needs that come with the use of these technologies. For example, under what circumstances can citizen information be disclosed to agencies other than the one who originally collected it? Personal possessions in the physical world are protected by the Fourth Amendment. We need equivalent protections for digital information. The government is in a unique position to both set those standards by statute, and set the example by implementation.