August 4, 2009 By Bill Bott
In my time working in and with government, I have seen my share of administration changes. I've been one of the hopeful new folks with enthusiasm and vigor, and I've been in the agency that just braces for the impact. I've seen the holdouts who refuse to believe anything will change, and I've seen the carnage left by some efforts that may not have gone over as intended. It seems with every administrative changeover, the folks in government work all prepare for the same thing, new vision, new Web sites and sometimes new hope.
Watching the first months of the new national administration, no understory has been more fascinating to me than the creation of dual technology positions under the office of the president. I have met both national CTO Aneesh Chopra and CIO Vivek Kundra and know them to be out-of-the-box thinkers with the tenacity and gumption to tackle big issues. I may not have always agreed with their direction, but I have always respected their willingness to boldly venture into areas that most CIOs tend to shy away from.
But their new positions are different. A bold venture, with all the enthusiasm of a new administration, plus the thrill of a position no one has ever held before. No shoes to fill, no precedence to maintain, and open road as far as the eyes can see. It's the kind of job some of us dream of, which made me dream a little. What would I look to accomplish in such a job? I'm sure many of you have, or could, think of ways you would make life better for agencies, for states, for citizens.
So I am offering this article as an open letter to our country's top techies. My hope is that every reader contributes a little something and that through this collection of ideas, we may be able to spur some meaningful dialog about national issues in IT.
I'll get the ball rolling with this offering for the states. Having served as CIO for a short time, and a deputy CIO for a much longer time, I know one of the largest issues facing the states today is the replacement of aging systems, such as unemployment insurance (UI). In some cases, these systems are now pushing 45 years old. In fact, most Medicaid/Medicare systems are a nonstop project management nightmare with no end in sight, and although it looks like we can all breathe a collective sigh of Real ID relief, many states have been waiting to replace their driver's license applications as well.
What do all these have in common? Well first, they are all mature (really old) business processes where we simply enhance what we have done for decades. Second, the federal government, which needs the information at a national level, dictates a lot of what states need to do. Third, agencies have had varying success implementing new systems because of the size and complexity of the work. Finally, they all will cost you over and upward of that $40 million mark that makes budget people choke when times are good, let alone today.
So my idea: time to franchise! Let's take a lesson from our friends under the golden arches at McDonald's. Imagine what it would cost to run 30,000 restaurants worldwide if each was buying its own ingredients for that special sauce, negotiating with its own suppliers and deciding if the McRib will ever be a permanent part of its menu. First, cheeseburgers would be a lot more than the change you can find in your car seat as costs of goods would surely increase when not buying in such bulk. Second, nothing would taste the same from place to place, you just
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