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1/4/2010
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Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Federal CIO Vivek Kundra's $5Billion Credibility Gap

Kundra's first year brought inspiring visions but also misguided support for runaway spending--will he reverse that in 2010?

So did you hear the one about the CIO with the 2009 IT budget of $71 billion, which breaks down to $200 million per day? He decided that for any year—but particularly for the gut-wrenching economic climate of 2009—such a number was totally unsustainable, indefensible, and just plain wrong.

But instead of hacking into that wasteful excess, this CIO padded the flab with another $5 billion, amounting to an increase of 7% and pushing the grand total to $76 billion! And hey, c'mon now, knock off the smart-aleck comments—how's a CIO supposed to get by on $200 million a day??

Let me ask you folks out there in the real world: anybody's IT budget go up at all last year?

Ten months ago, when federal CIO Vivek Kundra started his job as our country's first CIO, he inherited that budget of $71 billion, and not long afterward got the $5 billion increase to $76 billion. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he didn't want even the $71 billion to start with, and that he fought against the $5 billion increase but larger and more-entrenched forces jammed it down his throat. I don't buy that, but for the moment let's say it's so.

(For more on federal CIO Vivek Kundra, please check out our "Recommended Reading" list at the end of this column.)

Let's further agree that while this job description for CIOs is oversimplified, the broad truth is that CIOs today on the operational end need to deliver better information to more stakeholders more rapidly and across more devices and formats than ever before. Over on the strategic end, they need to help generate new revenue streams, increase customer loyalty, enhance customer engagements, accelerate new-product development, and relentlessly contribute to the creation of greater customer value.

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I refuse to believe that federal CIO Vivek Kundra cannot fulfill the operational end of his mandate with an annual budget of $50 billion, rather than $76 billion. I refuse to believe that he cannot do what so many other CIOs have done and find new ways to stretch a sharply reduced IT budget to meet those objectives with better leadership, tighter communication, more-rigorous requirements, less cronyism, and more focus on customers (plus, of course, that not-so-trivial $50 billion).

I refuse to believe that Kundra's strategic objectives would be rendered unreachable if each and every day he had only $137 million to spend instead of $200 million.

And I'm willingly suspending that belief because so many other CIOs—you people out there across every industry and every sized company, regardless of unique competitive challenges or any other external factors—did exactly that in the past year: you chopped your budgets severely and then got together with your teams and figured out better ways to do things. Not more-expensive ways of doing things, but better.

I've heard Vivek Kundra speak at length about his role, I've seen him answer some tough questions, and I've read many thousands of words written about him and his new role. He's clearly smart and apparently quite brave; he seems more than willing to try to recreate the mess that is federal IT in the nature of the citizen/customer instead of that of the bureaucracy/history; and his youthful exuberance plus his technological savvy make him an ideal breakthrough thinker and communicator for a challenge of this nature.

But Vivek Kundra's next challenge will be his toughest:

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