CIO Council committee presses innovation forward

Margie Graves, the co-chairwoman of the Innovation Committee and deputy CIO at the Homeland Security Department, said the committee is focusing on three areas: ...

The Chief Information Officer’s Council is taking a three-pronged approach to helping agencies step out of the old technology and into the new.

Whether it’s cloud or mobile or implementing agile development, the council’s Innovation Committee is promoting the sharing of tools and ideas to help agencies implement and save money.

Margie Graves, the deputy chief information officer at the Homeland Security Department and the co-chairwoman of the committee, said the committee’s focus falls into three buckets.

First, the committee will support the White House’s open data policy and initiatives by developing data architecture standards and by establishing an analysis and data hygiene framework for agencies to follow so they can have a repeatable process.

“The innovation side of the equation is to get as much of that out as possible so that people can use it to develop applications, to use the data to develop approaches, for example with the Innovation Fellows at GSA,” Graves said in an interview as part of Federal News Radio’s special report, A New Era in Technology. “We have one Innovation Fellow who is using data and information that we supplied in order to match developing countries with sources of funding to support their growth process. We also are using it in health care for patients to share information with their providers.”

The second bucket focuses on tools and analytics so agencies can derive value from the data.

“Now that we are getting a handle on how we label, tag, secure and share data, and then we tie that back to people who can access it either in an open source environment where it’s open to the public or with the appropriate protections, i.e. we give the right identity management attributes to the individual, why they would need to see certain data and if they should have access to it. And we match that up with the data itself,” Graves said. “Once you’ve done that, then it’s really about empowering the individual to do the analytics and drive conclusions from a business standpoint, efficiency standpoint and from a scientific standpoint-any type of question you want to ask.”

She offered several examples of how agencies already are taking advantage of data to make better decisions. One is how DHS officials developed the Management Cube so senior executives can review human resources, financial, acquisition and technology data to make better decisions.

Another example is where an Innovation Fellow is using agency spending data at the General Services Administration to examine trends among agencies to identify opportunities for strategic sourcing.

Graves said the committee’s role is to help agencies with the analytical framework and then make others aware of available tools and bring agencies together who are trying to answer similar questions.

“By putting the standards in place, you could have multiple procurements that would be applied to that,” she said. “Where it makes sense for us to have a center of gravity where we all are using something in common, then we will, of course, consider that for strategic sourcing.”

The third area is public-private partnerships where agencies can work with industry and academia to help solve the government’s problems.

“If we are clear, concise and we’re very strategic in where we are going in terms of the federal government writ large and what we want to see in terms of products, solutions and technologies brought to the fore from public sector and private partnerships, then we should be able to accelerate our launch in that that realm,” she said.

Graves said the security architecture for mobility under the Digital Government Strategy is an example of this approach. The council shared the National Institute of Standards and Technology draft standards with industry through several forums.

“We encouraged them to see a market for their product, and to understand what our issues were and what we were trying to solve. It was a very effective conversation,” she said. “Again, it was by setting a standard and being very clear and concise about where we are going and what we are trying to achieve.”

Through these three areas of focus, Graves said the Innovation Committee can expand the access to platforms where agencies can experiment and test out ideas.

She said GSA and the committee are considering adapting DHS’ car wash concept governmentwide.

Under the car wash, DHS reviews software code for security, quality and other requirements, such as Section 508, during the development process. The goal is to find and fix problems quickly and make the software usable from day one.

“As long as you can provide those sandboxes with the appropriate controls around them and a place for people to safely experiment, then you can encourage innovation and solve problems,” Graves said.

The committee isn’t just promoting problem solving inside the CIO community. Grave said the committee, and council at large, works closely with the other CXO councils.

She said the committee teamed with the Chief Acquisition Officers council to improve the tools and guidance so agencies can better understand and use the agile development process.

“The measurements and the approaches we’ve normally taken in the past, that we’ve put in service level agreements in contracts in order to convince ourselves and procurement community that what we asked for was truly being delivered…if you are going to change the way you develop different IT solutions, then you definitely have to change the way you measure it in order to fit the agile methodology, and it’s a different set of measurements,” she said. “We have to change your software lifecycle. You have to change your contract measurements and you have to change what the definition of success is in order to encourage the adoption of new approaches, and that’s what the Innovation Committee will be striving to do.”

She said the committee will work with the procurement community to define what those new measurements will be that would go in to contracts calling for the use of agile development.

Shared services is another area the Innovation Committee is working with CAOs on, specifically around the funding models through a portfolio approach.

“As we gain efficiencies and innovative approaches from encouraging people to think outside of the box, then we should be able to funnel that funding back into the continuous support of these initiatives,” Graves said. “My concern is that we have to have it sustainable, and in order for it to be sustainable, then we have to have it become a self-fulfilling prophecy and self-funding. That would probably be more palatable within the current environment we are in terms of sequestration and the budgets being constrained.”


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