Buzz of the Week: A few minutes with Steve Ballmer

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to talk to Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive officer,
and we learned that he exchanges e-mail messages regularly with Karen Evans. Last week, we learned that Evans also is a virtual pen pal to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

When we asked both of these power players why they talk regularly to Evans, administrator for information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, they had the same answer: because the government is a huge and important customer.

Ballmer was in Washington last week speaking at the American Electronic Association’s annual Technology for Government dinner. Before the dinner, Federal Computer Week Editor-in-Chief Christopher J. Dorobek had the opportunity to sit down with Microsoft’s energetic leader to talk about his views on issues ranging from the view of the government market to cloud computing.

Although the government is a huge customer, it is also a divergent and disparate customer. We asked Ballmer to identify the biggest misconception people have about the government. He said that too often, people think of the government as a single entity. In fact, the government is a number of different organizations.

“I’m incredibly impressed by the work the military is doing,” Ballmer said after noting that he spent the morning talking to Defense Department officials about the challenges they face.

He noted how far IT has come during the past decade. Ten years ago, for example, most people didn’t have a cell phone or even a PC. We’ve come a long way — and there is still a lot of opportunity to go forward, he said.

For example, Ballmer said software is undoubtedly going to morph into something that lives dynamically. “I’m not going tell you that all computing is going to be done in the cloud,” he said. “I think that what people are looking for is the best of both worlds.” They want the control and richness that comes with devices such as laptop PCs, iPhones and BlackBerrys, but they also want the usability, collaboration and ubiquity that the Internet provides. With all that, the cost will also decrease, he said.
So we can all expect more change ahead.

#2 GSA firms up
In an effort to become more efficient, the General Services Administration is creating an Office of Infrastructure Optimization to administer information technology infrastructure initiatives.
One result of the reorganization will be an increase in GSA’s ability to provide its customers with environmentally friendly IT offices. This step comes soon after GSA’s last internal reorganization, so one might say they’re proving adept at recycling ideas.

#3 See-through transparency
It’s hard to imagine anyone who would object to the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008, which would make more federal contracting and spending information available on the Web site. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) submitted the legislation on the same day that primary elections in Montana and South Dakota made him the presumptive Democratic nominee for president — a clear sign that a President Obama would support the measure.
Those who have a problem with the bill should not count on Obama’s rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for an antidote. He is a co-sponsor of the bill.

#4 Data breach worries
Although most federal information technology managers say they believe their organizations have an overall high level of security, they cite data breaches as their primary concern, in a recent survey.
Ironically, that news came to a day after a report that sensitive information about nearly 1,00 0 patients at military hospitals might have been compromised through the unauthorized sharing of a computer file.

The IT managers’ worries are well-placed, but is their confidence equally justified?

#5 SBA redefines small, once again
After several years spent trying to revise the convoluted system the agency used to determine what businesses qualify for small-business benefits and contracting preferences, the Small Business Administration might be nearing results. Agency officials said they hope to issue the first of the redefined standards by the end of this fiscal year.

The revised standard would apply to retail trade, accommodations and food service industries, as defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), which SBA uses as the starting point for small-business determinations.

If the agency succeeds in making those revised standards final, that would be three NAICS-defined industry types down and many thousands more to go.

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