My CIO 2.0 conversation with Casey Coleman, who is the CIO at the US General Services Administration (GSA) was truly enlightening. Casey started off by describing the role of the GSA, which is to provide common business services and shared services to the rest of the Federal Government. You can think of the GSA as the business management arm of the Federal Government. Casey described to me her career journey that led to becoming the CIO at the GSA. She started her career as a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin and got her first taste of government work when she became a legislative fellow on Capitol Hill for a year. She continued working in industry at the intersections of business and technology until 9/11, when she really wanted to return to Washington and work in public service. That is how ten years ago she found her way to GSA.
Next we talked about the changing workforce – a topic near and dear to Casey, and one that she writes about on her blog. With 4 generations at work, and with the old management structures and practices that were not really designed for knowledge workers still in place, it is a real challenge to design a workplace environment in which people can have an impact and the opportunity to be autonomous in creating a knowledge product of their own. You want to create an environment that allows a professional workforce to do their best work in a way that is not overly constricted by unnecessary management structures. While it is harder to implement changes fast when you are dealing with taxpayer dollars and public trust, Casey sees lot of energy to change, to embrace new technology, to be innovative, and to be thought leaders in government. She dispells the perception that a government workforce is being less open to change.
Casey’s mantra is that work is what you do, and not where you go in the morning. That is why she led the effort to enable every GSA employee to have access to their critical documents and messages from anywhere, any time, and with any device. You no longer have to be in one of the government buildings, using a government laptop, connected to the government network to get your work done.
Another big mantra of Casey’s is that she wants to empower people to work smarter — meaning having the ability to work as part of a team when not all team members are in one location. They did that partly by rolling out SalesForce’s Chatter social collaboration product, as part of her collective intelligence initiative. They also set up a lightweight workflow development tool — Force.com — that is used consistently throughout the agency and that allows them to roll up the work into a common framework and to understand things like cycle times, and where investments are being spent on a national and on an agency-wide level.
Next we spoke about the importance of culture in organizations. The GSA is fortunate to have a historic culture of innovation — dating back to the mid 90′s when they were the first agency to give everyone access to the Internet. By tapping into that culture of innovation and the history of taking pride in being thought leaders they have now been able to develop a culture of acceptance — one in which there is a willingness to try and adopt new things.
Casey is also convinced that technology can shape culture by being able to break down barriers and boundaries. Communications and decision-making is no longer top down, and by using social media technologies one can now rapidly find those individuals within the organization that are most open and enthusiastic about strategic changes. They can become thought leaders and partner with the leaders of the organization to shape the culture in a new way. Casey used the example of the Great Ideas Hunt, which was launched by the head of agency in an effort to find great ideas from employees on how to save money and be more effective. Not only did it lead to great ideas, many of which will be implemented, it was also an effective way for the head of the agency to communicate his priorities, and enlist the help of others to make it happen.
Lastly we discussed the opportunities of big data in organizations. The federal government has of course a lot of data that is useful for other organizations. That is why the Obama administration launched an initiative around big government data, called Data.gov. That is a site where government agencies and state and local governments publish their data. The format of the data is rather raw, but the expectation is that others would develop all kind of cool end-user apps using the government data — for example, combining positioning data with bus and train scheduled, so that from your smartphone you can pull up an app that shows you where you are, where the nearest train stations are and when the next train will arrive.
Other things we talked about include: