D.C. Opts for Agility

District of Columbia CTO Bryan Sivak details plans to innovate with IT and boost transparency.

District of Columbia Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak aims to transform his IT organization into a more agile one.

Sivak, who was appointed to his post in October 2009, comes from the private sector, where he founded high-tech companies Electric Knowledge and InQuira. Speaking at a recent state and local executive breakfast hosted by research firm Input, Sivak described how on his second day on the job, someone presented him with an RFP process flow chart depicting 17 steps. "I thought ‘uh oh, this isn't good,'" he said.

His first impression was that government is slow-moving, but over time he found that's not always the case. "My initial impressions are only partially true," Sivak said. "The mayor likes to get things done and hires people who like to get things done."

To accomplish that goal, Sivak is embracing a culture of agility. The goal is for IT to move quickly, make fast, educated decisions and adjust along the way. "We need agile processes, people and tools," he said

"Air traffic control is an example of an agile process," Sivak noted. "It's all about real-time communication and adjustment. Everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing. The system is a bit antiquated and needs to be updated, but the processes are there."

In IT, Sivak aims to coordinate across silos for better optimization of resources. Individuals could team up to work on a particular initiative, then that network will dissolve as they move on to another project. People could belong to many networks at once but work in smaller teams.

Sivak cited the district's Apps for Democracy program, which has saved the government about $2.3 million, as a perfect example of agile people and processes. The city makes more than 400 data sets available in different formats for people to capitalize on. And the new Track DC real-time operational dashboard lets users track how government is working for them.

IT is also using tools to help the group communicate better and close the feedback loop. One example is Yammer, which Sivak described as Twitter for internal organizations. Two months after deploying the tool, there are now 250 registered users and thousands of posted messages. There's also an idea solicitation tool called Insight.

Sivak wants IT to question everything and not accept that just because something has always been done in a certain way, that's the best way to do it. "We can't be afraid of failing, but we have to make sure that we fail fast and cheap," he said. "Do it before we've sunk millions of dollars or years of time in a project."

Area Outlook

Justin Spratley, analyst for Input's state and local information services, presented "District of Columbia Outlook: 2010 and Beyond" at a recent event.

Input forecasts a compound annual growth rate for IT spending of 3.9 percent through 2014. As a result, IT seeks increased workloads, quick tech fixes and staff augmentation, Spratley said. Governments are looking toward technologies that ease the burden on IT, such as automation, mobility, citizen online services, business intelligence, software as a service and open source.

The economy has stifled growth, and many states are laying off workers, not replacing retirees and furloughing workers for 10 days a year. But while there are fewer statewide projects, you'll see more regional and local projects. "2010 remains a pivotal year," Spratley said.

Public-safety interoperability is a high priority for IT, as it can provide productive intelligence, fleet management and preventative surveillance to reduce crime. And with Washington's growing youth population putting a strain on its school system, administrators are looking to IT to ease the burden.

Spratley said some upcoming IT projects to watch in Washington include health information exchange consulting, electronics benefit transfer system planning and consulting, and the Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System (SLED) warehouse.

Mar 02 2010