Exit interview: Joseph Klimavicz

The outgoing NOAA CIO says that of the many innovations he has led at the agency, a recently unveiled big data plan is the "most out of the box" -- and he is sorry he won't be around to see it through as he heads to the Justice Department.

Joseph Klimavicz

After seven and a half years at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Joe Klimavicz is set to become CIO of the Justice Department.

It takes a few minutes to tote up the big IT changes at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during the seven-and-a-half-year tenure of CIO Joe Klimavicz, who is taking over the Justice Department's CIO slot later this month.

During his time at NOAA, the nation's weather forecaster consolidated 19 separate email systems under Google's cloud-based service. They moved from a chaotic anything-goes mobility plan to a secure, standardized system that was first based on Blackberry, but is expanding to include iPhone and Android devices. The agency launched NOAALink, a strategic sourcing vehicle that Klimavicz said drove IT cost reductions of better than 10 percent, and stood up the nationwide N-Wave network to connect research facilities and NOAA's state and academic partners.

The list continues with data center consolidation, open data, cloud and identifying spectrum to share with commercial users as part of the Obama administration's overall spectrum plan. Klimavicz oversaw the increase of the agency's high-performance computing capacity by 20 times, using a single, consistent architecture for research and development and operations. There is consolidated backup for all high-impact systems and a greater focus on cybersecurity, with a thirty-fold increase in budget to secure NOAA systems.

Most recently, Klimavicz released a big data plan, seeking industry partners to host a unified collection of weather and climate data measured by satellite, radar, aircraft, waterborne sensors and other methods, to be shared with users in near-real time. The idea is to have industry foot the bill in exchange for access to a one-stop shop for advanced analytics using the best available climate data. In February, NOAA published a request for information seeking ideas from industry partners. Of all the NOAA innovations he has led, Klimavicz describes the big data plan as the "most out of the box," adding, "I'm sorry that I will not be able to see that through to completion."

He said he will be in "learning mode" for a while when he arrives at Justice -- a federated agency with dozens of large components, each with independent funding streams and disparate oversight authorities in Congress. Klimavicz did not say much about any particular plans for his new job other than getting to know the IT operations, but he offered a few observations about his overall management style, including looking for ways to drive enterprise-wide solutions to eliminate unnecessary duplication and improve cybersecurity. At the same time, he noted that "sometimes CIOs get in trouble trying to force standardization for the sake of standardization, and not really trying to understand the problem and what needs to be done."

At NOAA, and before that as deputy CIO in the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Klimavicz learned to listen to customers. "The most successful programs that I've seen have done just that over multiple years," he said, "constantly delivering new capability and functionality in conjunction with users. Listening to users and not trying to give them something they didn't want or need."

He'll also be looking to balance the need for information sharing with cybersecurity. Users are increasingly demanding capabilities for information sharing in real time, and Klimavicz said that connected systems can "be great in terms of increasing productivity." He also said that sometimes "cybersecurity and collaboration are pulling at each other." His strategy at NOAA was to include cybersecurity inside projects, rather than having it as part of a separate IT bucket. "That's where the money should sit," he said.

And advocates of agile development at DOJ are getting a new champion; Klimavicz sees it as the best way to get end users to give input on the current needs of its users.

"If you go off and wait five years to develop a system," he said, "well, the user base has changed a lot in five years."

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