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Steve O'Keeffe

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Posted: 3/18/2010 - 3 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]


Let’s be honest – if Uncle Sam were in retail, he’d be the DMV – long lines, uncomfortable chairs, “soviet” customer service. Just take a number, pay your money, and shut up. And, here comes “open government,” – Ogov – a learner driver crashing into the Fed service emporium. Yep, President Obama’s “naked-government” sounds sexy – but is the new transparency flattering?

You know how people say something nice about folks right before rubbishing them – “Bob could be the world’s best tweeter, but his breath makes his flatulence smell like a rose...?” Well here it goes. Who could fault the notion of Ogov? Sunlight into dark bureaucracy. Transparency to accountability. Monologue to dialogue. Crowdsourcing. Government as a platform. The slogans make me giddy. Now, let’s take a look at the driver’s record.
If we take tonnage as our measure of success – as did GM’s drive-train operation in the ‘90s – then Ogov is rockin’. Agencies have been pushing out data like Oldsmobiles off the production line for much of the last year. And production is accelerating. Challenge is, there ain’t no rhyme nor reason to agency emissions. No common format/standards for publishing that allows citizens and businesses to map the data to achieve new insight – this lies at the heart of the government as a platform proposition. And, when you look around, nobody seems to understand the road ahead – we’re dizzy with data without direction.
Let’s consider a couple of high-profile Ogov fender benders. First,, the site established by the Stimulus Act that, among other things, promised to publish the compensation of the top five execs from all companies that received ARRA contracts. MeriTalk tried to get to this data late last year. It appears that the information is there. That said, it would take more than 100 hours of programming to extract the data. Less government data at your fingertips – more government data under your fingernails.
Second up, OMB’s IT Dashboard – the “evidence-based” performance management system designed to rein in Feds’ spiraling $76 billion IT habit. Scratch the surface, and evidence on this whiz-bang tool is, well, not so whiz bang. When we took a look last year, just 56 percent of the data on IT contracts linked to That means almost half of the program data didn’t map back to a government purchase/contract. That made us raise an eyebrow. As we looked at building apps on top of the dashboard – allowing people to pull data by prime contractor, by red program, by sole source, etc. – we soon realized this was a dead end.
The net on these programs is the data, or organization of the data, simply is not there to support the Ogov promise – like the Library of Congress without a card catalog. It’s not about pushing out data, nor about the government developing Ogov apps of its own. To win, Uncle Sam needs to consider customer requirements, establish common data formats, and push all of the – legal – data to the public. Empower industry – we’re talking iTunes to OMB’s DMV – to build the apps and turn government into the platform.
So, how do we get back on the road? Rather than pile in the car with technocrat drivers, how about we put the experienced drivers behind the wheel – it’s supposed to be about citizen engagement, right? You tell us where Ogov should go. How? Take five minutes to complete the Ogov Survey.
Then, in the real spirit of Ogov – you know, collaboration that actually drives outcomes – the results of the survey will power MeriTalk’s testimony at the Senate Open Government hearing on March 23. Your voice alongside testimonies from Vivek Kundra and Aneesh Chopra in front of Senator Carper (D-Del.) and the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security. After all, you can’t complain about where we end up if you don’t take the opportunity to drive.
Why, you might ask, should you care? This Ogov stuff is your digital emancipation. Let’s build a more perfect union.
Posted: 3/1/2010 - 7 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]


Moderating an IT working group focused on IT consolidation is like trying to reconcile the Palestinians and the Israelis or negotiate nukes with Nikita Khrushchev. Carrying the scars from moderating a major agency IT consolidation offsite, I know something of how contentious this can get. Everybody wants a better future, but nobody is interested in giving an inch of ground – nor in stopping their build out. You see, while this data center consolidation and cloud stuff all sounds great – and it's in the common good – this is not simply about cutting IT cost. It's about jobs, careers, and prestige. Everybody wants to consolidate other people's resources into their data centers. Nobody's stepping forward to be consolidated. This is truly "out-of-my-cold-dead-hand" stuff ...

Now, let's fast forward to OMB's IT Dashboard and ambitious cloud, consolidation, and virtualization plans – the holy trinity of Vivek Kundra's vision for the future. Let's go with this automotive metaphor, dashboards are nice – if they deliver real insight. But at some point we need to lift the hood to unplug excess horsepower – and that means getting your hands dirty dealing with cutting jobs and taking away budget. I refer you back to the disputed territories and the Cold War.  
Okay, so this consolidation is hard – but how do we know where we are today, and, importantly, if we are making progress? How many data centers does Uncle Sam currently operate? Well, if you listen to OMB, nobody really knows ... this is a tale of data centers multiplying like rabbits. Last fall, Vivek Kundra pegged the population at 932. In the new budget, February 1st, the data center census jumped to 1,100. In his industry 2010 IT budget briefing at NVTC, the Fed CIO raised the stakes again to 1,200 – see page four – Federal data centers. The cynics might say that if your job is to consolidate, the higher the number the easier it is to claim victory – right? Is it just me, or does anybody else think that the Office of Management and Budget should be better at accounting? 
Just last Friday, OMB announced its new Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative. It pegs the number of Federal data centers at north of 1,100, but does not give a precise count – so we'll keep on guessing. Interestingly, the memo notes that the number of Federal data centers has increased from 432 in 1998 – rabbits indeed … The memo to the CIO Council designates Richard Spires, DHS CIO, and Michael Duffy, Treasury CIO, as leads for this ambitious program. OMB is right on track with the proposed five-step approach – initial audit, plan, baseline, consolidate, monitor progress. Perhaps you'd like to help OMB with the data center initial audit? Check out the total population of data centers in the United States on this global map of data centers – To be clear, this shows all data centers, not Federal data centers. You'll quickly see that there are a lot of them. And, look how many are concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic region ... the drill-down capability is both impressive and overwhelming.
Let's applaud OMB for the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative – but remember that we were very upbeat about the IT Dashboard at first. It's indisputable that data center consolidation is the real battleground for the war on out of control IT costs. Here's my prescription for cutting IT cost – and at once setting the table for the transition to the cloud:
First, OMB needs to get the IT Dashboard in some order. Launched in May of last year, it's still a beta product. There is a clear need to rebuild credibility here. The data sources feeding the dashboard are not good. Even Toyota would have recalled this product by now. It was interesting to see Vivek Kundra focus on the IT Dashboard in this week's Economist the Data Deluge – I would caution against leading with your chin. There are rumors of a 2.0 version – we have high hopes.
Second, we should establish a data-rich Federal Data Center Map, beyond a static page – see page four – so that we can get real transparency into the current state of play. This application must show more than geographical location and tech infrastructure. To be effective, it must show budget ownership to drive real change. 
Third, and critically, we need to establish incentives for consolidation and real penalties for dragging of heels. Experience has demonstrated that mandates alone do not move mountains.
Kundra, Spires, and Duffy have a tough road ahead in data center consolidation. Consider the Federal data center owners as Charlton Heston. It's going to take more than buzz phrases and gimmicks to get these weathered veterans to loose their iron grip.
-       Got an opinion on data center consolidation? Jump into the MeriTalk Data Center Management and Cloud Computing groups and make your voice heard
-       The solution providers circling the double-headed data center consolidation and cloud opportunity can and should help the Feds out. Collaboration on the development of the Federal Cloud Computing Savings Calculator is an important first step in the required public-private collaboration. Now Feds have a common tool to calculate their potential cloud savings. Next, we need to establish a forum for government and real cloud programs established in the private sector to exchange information – what works and what doesn't. This forum could and should include the data center consolidation dialogue
-       This is such an important area that MeriTalk is working with industry and government to host two upcoming conferences to stimulate dialogue:
-          The New IT Economics – 2010 Federal IT Cost Optimization:  April 21st at the Newseum
-          1,100 – How Many Data Centers Does It Take ...: May 20 at the Reagan Building
-       Data center consolidation, cloud, and the new IT economics are also on the menu at the MeriTalk Innovation Nation Forum this Thursday at the Reagan Building – register today