The AFCEA Bethesda Kundra speech — did he tell people to go around the CIO?

I almost felt like the headline of this post should be: Did you hear what I heard?

I mentioned that federal CIO Vivek Kundra spoke last week at AFCEA’s Bethesda chapter. (In fact, I’m going to hear Kundra speak again this morning at the 2009 Government Web Managers Conference and, like last week, you can follow along with my notes, which I’ve posed online here.)

During Kundra’s presentation last week — FCW’s Ben Bain has a good summary here — he seemed to save the best for last. And it is an interesting example of what people hear vs what people say — often a journalistic conundrum.

The comments came from a questions that I asked earlier in the program. My question, essentially, is how do CIO’s remain relevant?

Sometimes — perhaps often — CIOs and IT organizations are seen as the “NO Zone.” If program people go to their IT organization with an idea, they are told all the reasons they can’t do something. And that is particularly true with Web 2.0 applications with security as the big bugaboo. And the classic case comes from Homeland Security Department’s Transportation Security Administration. TSA wanted to start a blog. They went to their IT shop and were told that that could be built… for thousands of dollars — in my memory it was $60,000, but I stand to be corrected. Somebody rightfully said, ‘Um, isn’t Blogger [or my personal favorite, WordPress or Typepad] free?’ Thankfully, the TSA program people found a crafty IT person who made it happen.

The TSA story is a good one because it shows how many organizations view their IT shop — they don’t see them as the enablers. Too often, the IT organization — and CIOs — represent the NO Zone — or the CI-NO.

So earlier I asked how CIOs can avoid being the CI-NO. And it is one of the things that can just crush innovation.

But at the end, Kundra came back to it and stressed the importance of innovation.

And it is interesting because what I have had many people say that they heard Kundra telling people to go around their IT shops if they get blocked — and they say it with horror in their eyes.

In fact, he did say that we need to encourage people to “challenge traditional thinking.” (As I mentioned, I posted my notes, so you can go to the bottom and see how I remembered it — they didn’t clear it up all that much, to be honest.)

First off, I know that Kundra wasn’t telling everybody to go around their IT organization. He understands how government organizations work. And I have spoken to people who know Kundra very well and what he wanted to say was that this is a real opportunity — and his real message was to industry: Provide value to the taxpayers.

But there is still a lot of buzz about it out there. So last night, I pulled out my recording of the event, and I can understand how people heard what they think they heard. I don’t think it is what he was actually saying, but I understand the confusion. The quality isn’t great, but… I’ll let you listen for yourself.

I think his point is very important — there are real opportunities here and now. And for too long, the government has turned to integrators to build collaboration systems that, frankly, fail when compared to… say, Facebook. The innovation is coming from the consumer market and driving the enterprise market. (I would add that if IT organizations are the NO Zones, technology is ubiquitous enough, people, in fact, will just go around their IT organizations — and that is bad for everybody.)

Kundra is speaking again this morning. Perhaps he will clarify a bit.

As we say in radio, stay tuned.