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Posted: 9/5/2012 - 2 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]

IT Moves on @ DoT

This is not your father’s DoT IT. Ain’t it appropriate that the ‘90s car tagline fits - except, where it was an empty tagline at Oldsmobile, the change engine is firing on all six at DoT. I had the opportunity to pull up alongside Nitin Pradhan, CIO at Transportation, recently. And, yes, he did remind me a little of Lee Iaccoca.

100-Point Turn
No, I’m not talking Austin Powers - more on the turn maneuver later.
 
Putting the car in first, Pradhan focused on two stakeholder communities - IT and the business owners. “This is not an either/or proposition,” he underlined. “To win, we need to get both parties to embrace change - and, critically, to enhance the relationship on both the supply and demand sides to achieve the mission.”
 
“We knew we had to take a new approach - and that a lot had to change,” said Pradhan. “So, we decided to unleash 100 new ideas - agile, small changes. We also knew every model would not succeed. The idea was to listen to our customers - and prototype iteratively.” And, yes, there was an Edsall or two in the new line up. “Eighty five or so of our 100 crossed the finish line. As other change vehicles sputtered, we just waved them into the pit lane. To effectively change, you need to experiment. The secret is to listen to the customer, place a lot of small bets, and watch carefully.”
 
BHP
“BHP’s not Break Horse Power, it’s Better Human Performance - that was the number-one priority in our IT makeover,” said Pradhan. “We have lots of IT folks at DoT. As people retire or leave, we encourage managers to downgrade appropriate positions, freeing up some much needed financial resources for hiring a sea of talented pros and paid interns and have them coached and mentored by our experienced, expert professionals. Like an internal combustion engine, you need spark then compression to generate horsepower. Young people and new ideas spark change - experienced experts manage change.”
 
Torquing Training
“Like most Federal IT departments, we don’t have sufficient IT training dollars - bringing in new young folks to energize the workforce is great, but we needed training for new recruits,” said Pradhan. “Let me underline that young folks are great, but we also need to retain the valuable experienced employees we have today in the department. If you don’t invest in your team’s skills, the good folks leave and the remainder quickly become irrelevant in the face of rapid tech change. So, we started our own internal training academy.”
 
“We invited CIOs from tech leaders to come in and present to our IT teams,” said Pradhan. “Oracle, IBM, Boeing quickly lined up on the ramp. And, we reached beyond IT.” He explained how the Chief Innovation Officer from VW and many other industry titans pulled into the visitor spot at DoT. Next, Pradhan focused on harnessing the knowledge of innovative technology vendors. “We have hundreds calling us to sell new products and we needed to create a win-win” so DoT set up the Technology Evaluation and Learning Series (TELS), a forum to discuss new technologies applicable to DoT. “These are not sales pitches but serious, rounded discussions around a particular technology and the business value it can deliver for DoT.”
 
“Our training academy has proved a big hit. The opportunity to learn from the best and brightest - on the latest - all for free,” grinned Pradhan. “And, most captured on video so that our personnel can access on demand any time. Live and on demand - that’s a great hybrid training strategy. We’ve got great mileage out of a non-existent training budget. And our morale in IT has never been higher.”  
 
Riding Shotgun
But Pradhan realized that DoT would not succeed even if IT delivered significant improvements working with the IT staff and the business owners. A third, and critical audience, needed to rev it up. “Contractors are critical - and that means we understand, respect and partner with them to maximize public value,” said Pradhan. 
 
“We wanted to motivate and inspire a new generation of agile, innovative companies - and that means spending time with start ups and high-growth companies.” The challenge for Pradhan was how to find the time to meet with, and mentor contractors, while engaging other internal stakeholders. Here's that innovation thing again. Pradhan lives in Reston. He would pick up contractors and they would ride with him on his commute to and from the DoT office in Southeast D.C. “It provided a great opportunity for real conversations.”
 
And, yes, with DoT’s IT on the move, I regret to inform, so is Nitin Pradhan. Since we chatted, he’s left DoT to launch “Public Private Innovations" the nation's first Federal technology accelerator program to grow the next generation of companies, products, and service for the public sector. "Public value with private growth" is his mantra - stay tuned for more news on Twitter @NitinPradhanCIO. The upside, as DoT watches Pradhan in the rear view mirror, it’s great to have Tim Schmidt in the driver’s seat. Schmidt’s got both hands on the wheel and his foot on the gas.

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