Q&A: Gartner Government VP Sounds Off On Federal CIO Departure

Rishi Sood, vice president of government research at Gartner, Thursday said he does not see the resignation of Federal CIO Vivek Kundra as a black eye for the Obama administration, but rather a reality of the information technology marketplace.

Sood, who has followed government IT issues for nearly two decades and is considered one of the preeminent authorities on government IT, made the comments in an interview with CRN after speaking at Everything Channel's XChange Public Sector conference in Jacksonville, Fla., where several hundred solution providers gathered to discuss government IT reform.

The interview came after news broke Thursday that Kundra, the first ever federal CIO, will leave the White House in August in order to take a post at Harvard University.

Kundra, who was tapped to take the top federal IT job in March 2009, was central to President Obama's push for the government to embrace modern technologies like cloud computing, virtualization and data center consolidation.

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Below are excerpts from the interview with Sood.

Is this a black eye for the Obama administration?

I wouldn't say that it is a black eye for the administration. It is a reality of what happens in the marketplace. There are IT leaders that need to raise visibility to a given technology issue. You can't just depend on that singular leader to make sure that there are wholesale changes across all federal government. There has to be that pent up or mitigating factor that drives the change within the agencies. And with respect to federal government it is not leadership.

In a lot of respects, it is the budget hammer that is going to drive change. So he (Kundra) has done a great job of raising visibility into newer models (like cloud computing). It is disappointing that there is going to be a vacum in leadership if it occurs, but that is not emblematic of what needs to happen across all of federal government. The change has to happen within the agencies directly.

Talk about the gap between articulating an IT plan in the federal government and executing the plan.

It's a huge gap and it is not like the commercial world where a CIO or CEO leaving an organization has a much different impact on the organization itself. The CIO in federal government doesn't have direct budgetary purse strings. He can't control by and large the movements of individual agencies. And so as a result it does become a position that is more about leading a technology change rather than driving it directly through the agencies themselves.

He (Kundra) has done a lot of impressive things, creating the SWAT teams that go into the agencies, looking at how they are aligning their IT budgets, and looking at the results of some of those investments. Hopefully those types of review panels will continue beyond Vivek.

Is this a case of a bright leader getting into government and being frustrated?

I don't really think so. I think it is a powerful thing that he has done. I think he is probably proud of the achievements that have been made across the entire federal government organization. I think what is different about federal government (CIO) than other positions in the commercial world is that it is much more of a 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year job and the pressures attached to that from a two-year, three-year or four-year perspective are just too much sometimes. Sometimes it takes a while for you to reset the buttons to go somewhere else in order to keep your sanity in check, quite honestly.

NEXT: The Impact On Federal Government Cloud Initiatives

What is your forecast on what happens with the cloud computing momentum in federal government now that Vivek is leaving?

Most people would say that a leadership vacum will impact the pace of acceleration of cloud based technologies. I can't deny that. But I have to tell you that the notion of the acceleration of cloud-based services wasn't driven by leadership. It was driven by the budget. And as technology continues to change, as the nature of technology changes, more and more agencies will mimmick what first generation leaders have done and take that on as their own policy goals, their own budgetary goals. And that happens to be cloud because cloud saves money. They will reflect that in second and third generation adoption. We just have to make sure that first generation users (of cloud) are meeting their objectives. That is unclear right now.

You have been following federal government IT for nearly two decades. How hard is that budget hammer coming down right now?

It really is dependent upon the next election cycle, after we get a new president and see the shape of Congress. You have a Republican House right now. You are more likely going to have a Republican Senate in the next elections. If you then unify that with a Republican President that budget hammer will be very strong.

What is your advice for public sector solution providers who were excited by Kundra's cloud mission. How fast should they be moving to cloud now?

I continue to think that the way cloud is being oriented in the commercial world will be reflective of what happens in government. It now becomes how does the partnering environment continue to move it forward so that it meets government objectives.

There are issues around security, data ownership, the long term price, and the differences between private government cloud versus public cloud. There is a huge gap between what the spending savings are between a private government cloud and the public cloud itself.