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Be 'Less of a Nerd,' Agency CIO Tells Fellow CIOs

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Tight federal IT budgets may be the “kick in the ass” agencies need to embrace cost-effective cloud networks and stop inefficient IT practices, says one federal chief information officer.

Government IT spending "is out of control primarily because people continue to custom code their own applications and build their own data centers,” said Joe Paiva, CIO of the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration. “It’s just got to stop.”

Paiva railed against wasteful IT spending Thursday at the ATARC Federal Cloud and Data Center Summit, calling out agencies for not taking full advantage of the software they pay for and spending federal money too frivolously. It’s difficult to get things to change in government, he said, but limited funding could provide the impetus for people to embrace more cost-effective processes.

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For Paiva, cloud technology offers the most potential. Though the government has saved hundreds of millions of dollars by moving almost half its data centers to the cloud, the Government Accountability Office found most agencies have been slow to scale back traditional, non-cloud information storage.

One strategy Paiva sees for reducing spending is making employees more familiar with the tech they already have at their disposal. Cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Office 365 offer suites of useful applications, but because people don’t know they exist, agencies often build or purchase software they already own, he said. In his eyes, the responsibility for broadcasting these resources falls on the CIO.

“I think the future of the CIO is more of a trainer and an educator and less of a nerd,” he said. “Once you go [to the] cloud, you don’t have to develop applications: You have to teach people how to use them.”

Another big drain on the federal IT purse is software duplication. Instead of sharing solutions to common tech problems, many agencies build custom applications and programs that other groups have already created. The Office of Management and Budget said this practice wastes both time and money, resulting in agencies essentially writing multiple versions of the same code.

The cloud can give agencies a platform to share their work. By uploading applications developed by one agency to the cloud providers’ app stores, every other agency could have access to it. While this wouldn’t apply to some sensitive projects, he said sharing simple programs like task managers would prevent organizations from wasting valuable resources on redundant tech.

Publishing software on app stores doesn't just give other agencies access to those tools. The tools can also be accessed by other people and businesses as well as state and local governments and other national governments. Paiva presented a number of solutions to this problem, including charging non-government users a fee or developing a separate cloud app store accessible only by government employees.

The Defense Department and several civilian agencies have launched internal app stores in recent years. 

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