The week before Labor Day tends to be a slow one for news and maybe that’s why an opinion piece in the New York Times by Vivek Kundra caught my attention. In his brief essay he deplored those who stood in the way of progress and IT efficiency he wanted to introduce into the business of running the government under the aegis of cloud computing.
Vivek Kundra made history when he became the first CIO for the US government Now that he has left the job for greener salaries in a MIT Think Tank, he is kicking dust in the face of the colleagues he worked with, or should we say, those he railed against? It was no secret among the vendors who sold solutions to government entities that Vivek Kundra’s cloud push went over like a lead balloon. He was stonewalled at every turn and the cover story was no security and privacy in the cloud.
Kundra is big picture kind of guy and I won’t argue with his premise. Cloud is the way things are going to go and it is happening faster than we think. But let’s not forget where we are standing right now—in the mire. A lot of what we have in government and in private industry is so established that it would be too disruptive and expensive to throw it on a smart phone with a browser front end to an amorphous cloud. If Kundra had a fatal flaw, it was that he was not operational when it came to systems engineering and people management. It is a blind side not limited to CIO’s. They have vision, but they trip up on the nitty gritty of how to make it work.
Vivek Kundra, in his brief tenure as US CIO, could have used more ambassadors and diplomats for technology on his team who understood security. His cloud ultimatum did not take into account the inertia of established systems and patterns of human behavior. He saw the morass of government information systems and decided to throw it all out. Good for him. But he didn’t last long in the job of CIO, another hazard of being in the leadership class.
To be successful today, IT leaders need more than vision; they must be change agents who can work with systems and people. Because it is Labor Day in a year when unemployment numbers are higher than they have been since 1980’s, let's not forget that cloud computing is part of the continuum of office automation. Office automation had its antecedents in factory automation--doing jobs faster and better with machines. The people who did those jobs did not have work as a result of factory automation. In this day and age of Cloud Computing, there will be new jobs (especially for those who are think tank material) but it's not going to happen in sync with the loss of work and it is not going to be pretty.
Do we need a government cloud? Yes. We also need an education cloud, a healthcare cloud and a secure, regulated and transparent banking cloud. Being able to share computing resources via cloud services is the next logical step toward global commerce and it will be the springboard for the next round of innovation. In the blink of an eye, a new technology will unravel today’s efficiencies and we will be involved revolutionary change that never really took a breather.
If Leon Trotsky were alive today he would be amazed to find that the “permanent revolution principle” he predicted was necessary for social progress in the industrial age was being fueled by something called cloud computing and social networking in the first decade of the new millennium. Those who have been involved with the business of managing information on a large scale are acutely aware of how fast and disruptive the continuing pace of innovation has been for the organizations we work for. But you don’t have to be philosopher to appreciate how new technology continues to powerfully transform the way we live and work. Just ask the Egyptians, who will be the first to tell you how their use of Facebook was nothing short of revolutionary.