Circuit: CIO Summit roundup

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Government chief information officers often talk about transformation. But not all transformation is voluntary, which is when things get really interesting.

That was the focus of last week's semi-annual Government CIO Summit sponsored by FCW Media Group, which owns Federal Computer Week. CIOs from federal, state, local and international agencies discussed ways to bring about and cope with the changes that are thrust upon them.

Here is a roundup of the discussions:

* A long drive to success. One issue was standardization. In a discussion about the working relationship between government and industry, industry panelists argued that government officials must make more of an effort to rely on commercial technology rather than customizing everything.

"That's something the auto industry went through decades ago," said Andy Malay, vice president of SAP Public Services. "They had to standardize."

* Plasticity needed. A concern for attendees was the ability to integrate information and services across government agencies. Agencies struggle with integration, but the struggle is worth it, said Gene Leganza, vice president of Forrester Research.

Leganza said it brings to mind the scene in "The Graduate," in which Dustin Hoffman is told the secret of success, in a word, was plastics. Today, the word is "horizontal integration," he said, adding, "Okay, that's two words."

* The flipside of integration. Australia officials have working through similar issues and are making some progress.

They have initiated a program known as Centrelink to integrate the delivery of human services across departments. "We're silo-busters," said Centrelink CIO Jane Treadwell.

Centrelink costs about $1.5 billion to launch and run and is financed primarily by 25 Australian agencies that are part of the project. Small fees are charged for some services, but the project is mostly publicly financed and free to customers. Government officials also regularly conduct focus groups to find out what people want.

One of Centrelink's top services enables Australians to notify various government agencies of an address change with one stop, an idea that has been kicked around but never implemented by U.S. officials.

The program could be in for a higher profile. Earlier this month, Australian officials promoted their human services director, who oversees the program, to a Cabinet-level position, Treadwell said.

* Uncle Sam revisited. CIOs from Wal-Mart and the Defense Logistics Agency explained the parallel revolutions in service delivery that have been triggered by radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

Wal-Mart CIO Linda Dillman explained how RFID has made it easier for the retailer to track what's on the shelf, what sells and what doesn't. But in the future, it could do much more by telling customers what they haven't bought in a week — for instance, milk or laundry detergent, Dillman said.

DLA CIO Mae De Vincentis talked about how important RFID has become for tracking equipment shipped to the front lines.

"In a peacetime scenario, we look very much like Wal-Mart," De Vincentis said. That's true even in wartime, she added.

Nevertheless, she said, military officials need training to use RFID and maximize the technology's potential to save time and money.

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