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What Kind of Federal CIO Will Tony Scott Be?

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Former technology executive Tony Scott officially takes the reins of the Obama administration’s $84 billion IT budget next week.

Scott, a former chief information officer for VMware, Microsoft and the Walt Disney Company, starts Monday as the Obama administration’s federal CIO, according to the White House.

Lengthy resume aside, Scott, an industry veteran with a 35-year career spanning tech giant, blue-chip firms and even a pharmaceutical company is still largely an unknown quantity in Washington.

His appointment defied expectations of many experts that Obama would pick a well-known face to shepherd his administration’s IT priorities through the last few years of his presidency.

Scott’s outsider status isn’t necessarily a weakness, according to Dave Powner, director of IT management issues at the Government Accountability Office, one of the top tech watchdogs in government.

"Hopefully, he'll have some good ideas based on his experience in the private sector,” Powner told Nextgov. “Even with limited time, sometimes the government needs some fresh ideas.”

Nextgov has done some digging to find out what we know about Scott, the IT agenda he’s inheriting and some of the potential challenges he’ll face in his new role.

Scott: No Stranger to Cloud or the ‘Digitization of IT’

By the time he joined virtualization giant VMware in August 2013, Scott had already spent five years as the CIO of Microsoft, served as the first CIO managing companywide IT at the Walt Disney Corporation and completed stints as the chief technology officer at General Motors’ information systems and services division and as vice president of operations at Bristol-Meyers Squibb.

Scott called the opportunity to serve as federal CIO “unprecedented” in a farewell blog post published on VMware’s website Friday. Scott’s last day at VMware was Thursday, company spokesman Michael Thacker told Nextgov.

In his blog post, Scott provided a glimpse into his thinking about taking the job:

In his recent State of the Union message, President Obama emphasized the importance of technology as a means of accelerating economic growth, innovation and increased job opportunities. He also articulated the need to take action in specific areas such as cybersecurity, net neutrality, e-health, and expanding both the access and speed of the Internet. I will contribute in these areas and will bring what I have learned in my career to this role.

Scott added, “This means in some ways I would play the same role I was playing at VMware, but at the national level.”

In fact, his most recent work at VMware also seems especially prescient given the administration’s focus on revamping the way the government delivers digital services.

In an August 2014 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Scott said one of his top priorities was speedier delivery of IT services within the company. That included anticipating and forecasting future hardware and software needs and quickly provisioning them throughout the business.

Scott called it the “digitization of IT,” and added: “Speed is everything in this day and age. If I’m slower to market with some capability [that] our business needs, we’re dead.”

Another focus area sure to aid Scott in his new role? Cloud computing.

Under Scott’s watch, VMware has increasingly taken steps to break into the federal cloud market. Going back to his Microsoft days, Scott in 2010 pledged to help prod the company toward cloud, pledging about 85 to 90 percent of Microsoft’s internal apps would be cloud-native sometime between 2015 and 2020, according to a ZDNet article at the time.

On a more personal note -- and speaking of clouds -- Scott is a pilot. As of last summer, he was working on getting an instrument rating added to his pilot license, according to PC Magazine. That’s an extra certification that allows pilots to fly through clouds and other conditions where they’d have to rely on reading cockpit instruments.

FITARA Legislation a Guidebook for New CIO

What about that $84 billion -- and rising -- tech agenda Scott will oversee?

Powner, the IT watchdog, said Scott should use as his guidebook the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act passed by Congress late last year. The legislation empowered CIOs at the agency level to take greater authority over IT budgeting and contracting decisions.

Scott needs to be a champion for his agency-level counterparts, Powner said.  

“Getting better management of either IT acquisitions or operations is really contingent on having some really strong CIOs,” Powner said.

Another area ripe for leadership is in agile, incremental development, Powner said. In the fiscal 2016 budget blueprint published by the White House this week, the administration highlighted successes in agile acquisition and development.

Projects that adhered to agile-development concepts were nearly twice as likely to deliver on time than those that used the traditional “waterfall” development technique, according to the administration.

But GAO data shows that less than half of the major IT acquisitions that are planning to deliver within the year actually do so, Powner said.

"Many of the failures [in government IT] are because we do this big-bang approach, and we spend money for years without delivering any hardware or software,” he said. “If the new federal CIO could really get more major IT acquisitions delivering within the budget year, you would be far better off.”

(Image via dencg/Shutterstock.com)

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