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Public-Private Information Sharing and Lessons for the Government CIO/CTO

Direct interaction is best for these long term trust based relationships

Public-Private Information Sharing, or a varient of that concept, has been a part of federal government strategic plans for as long as I can remember. Every cyber security related study I know of, including the famous 1966 President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, has made public-private information sharing a key strategy.  Federal agencies and studies have made important suggestions regarding public-private information sharing part of most every major IT study.  I’ve seen this type of information sharing work very well, but as a technologist I’ve also seen a need for (and urged) improvements to the model.

For example, too frequently the way government executives are forced to do public-private information sharing is through processes that flow from the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR).  The FAR mandates market assessments and surveys to be done in ways that do not give one company an unfair advantage over another. This is smart of course, but results in some industrial age information gathering that is not very timely.

Federal technologists also do quite a bit of direct coordination with industry to learn and they do this under the watchful eye of procurement executives to make sure this is all above board, and this sort of coordination with industry technologists is absolutely critical to the smooth functioning of federal enterprises. The executives in DC who make trips to Silicon Valley or great hubs of innovation like Boston or Raleigh or Boulder (home of WayIn) come back with information that can help their strategic planning and this sort of public-private info exchange also helps industry know important things about government mission needs.

But too frequently government is tempted to just ask their local industry reps for info and advice on the future of technology. This is still public-private info sharing, and when budgets get tight is can be incredibly cost effective to just turn to a favored federal systems integrator that you already have on contract and ask them questions and consider this your public-private information exchange. There are many great integrators in the DC area and I know and love them but this is not optimal long term, since most integrators serving government become captured by government and talking to them is almost like talking to yourself.

There are also many non profit collegial organizations and consortia in the federal space that government frequently turns to for public-private information sharing and coordination.  These include many great organizations that I volunteer time with, like the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), the Armed Forced Computer and Electronics Association (AFCEA), and the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA).  I volunteer with these groups because I love them and strongly support the positive change they make in the world. But when government turns to these groups for their public-private information exchange it is sub-optimized. They are full of people like me, former government executives who might be easy to talk with but who might not be as up to date with the best information industry has to offer.

Some lucky few government technologists get to interact with In-Q-Tel, a collective of very savvy technology and business professionals who absolutely master the art of surveying industry for best technology. The entire government would be well served if this model were replicated for all. But for now In-Q-Tel cannot serve the entire federal space. And it also serves mostly in the new technology space, not in areas like process, procedure and lessons learned exchanges. In-Q-Tel is only part of a solution.

I always recommend to government friends that they make the most of the great resources American industry has to offer and that includes learning from locals in the DC ecosystem but should also include a program of focused interaction with others far from DC.  You will make great friends doing this and the connections you make can turn into long term trust-based relationships that can help both the government and American industry advance.  Time is precious to all of us, so government executives need to plan how this is done wisely, but periodic visits to the champions of industry like Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, HP, VMware, EMC, Cloudera, Cleversafe, Terracotta, AT&T and the great Venture Capital and Private Equity firms for reviews of their portfolios are critically important. I’ve also been so fortunate in my career to have spent time with chip makers, security firms, and even great institutions like Disney. It is all a learning experience.

Direct interaction is best for these long term trust based relationships, but when that is hard you can also meet industry online. One great place to do that is through venues like the Enterprise CIO Forum. Since this is a forum backed by CXO Media (the parent company of CIO magazine) it is a well resourced venue that includes a world class community manager (John Dodge).  If you are a CTO or CIO in the federal space you probably already read CIO Magazine. Why not join the Enterprise CIO Forum to interact directly with people from outside the federal ecosystem?

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.