White House CTO: IT Is Part Of 'Federal Government Fabric'


Federal and state governments need to create a more standards-based data reporting structure so they can be fully engaged in an integrated technology landscape, said Aneesh Chopra, CTO and associate director for technology for the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy.

Chopra, confirmed as the nation's first CTO last August, told attendees at the National Association of State CIOs conference in Austin, Texas, that designing a more open, transparent technology strategy will help deliver solutions more quickly and less expensively.

For example, Chopra talked about how rethinking technology led to radical changes in managing veterans claims benefits.

"More money has been spent on trying to fix claims benefits than you can ever imagine. The president issued a simple challenge. Listen to the 19,000 frontline [veterans claims] workers and ask for their ideas. Two weeks later we had an idea management portal up and within another two weeks, 12,000 of 19,000 employees had registered and played in the system," Chopra said.

Users can comment and rank their ideas and the top 15 will get to present them in Washington, he said. "We'll do our best to execute on them," he said. "Normally, you'd think of that as a big ERP implementation that takes a long time. But it's not that at all."

Chopra said creating breakthroughs addresses national priorities by utilizing technology to help develop new ways of interacting with citizens.

"The president has elevated IT into the fabric of how we run federal government. We want to collaborate with state and local governments," Chopra said.

Instead of long implementations, Chopra said, President Barack Obama has challenged Chopra and his staff to solve IT problems in 90-day turnarounds. The first challenge came this summer when Obama asked for a revamped Web experience for immigration that focused on customer satisfaction.

"We didn't even know how many steps an [immigration] application had to take to get it through the process. But we needed to find a way to make it more understandable," he said.

His team helped create a graphical solution that shows users where they are in the process and allows them to select their notification of choice. "Do you want to see your status online? Or get an e-mail, or a text message? You can do that now," he said.

His new solution also allowed users to see benchmark data by immigration office, to see how their turnaround time rates compared with other offices.

"We want to ensure that the citizen was at the heart of it all going forward," Chopra said.

"This 90-day [challenge] has helped us rethink all big enterprise IT projects. What used to be a long procurement cycle, a long deliverable cycle, now we think what can be done quickly," Chopra said.

Rethinking the traditional processes used to solve problems needs to become a larger priority for all technology companies, Chopra said.

"The nation's most innovative corporations are changing the way in which they operate," he said.

For example, he cited a GE initiative to deliver basic health-care diagnostics in China, where there is little electricity, a distributed demand market and a need for low price points. Engineers designed a completely different product at 85 percent less cost than legacy solutions. "It was so successful, they're going to open it in the United States," he said.