The Evolving Role of the Federal CIO

07/23/2012 09:19 pm ET | Updated Sep 22, 2012

It seems like talk about cloud computing is inescapable for even the average citizen these days. But what about those people whose jobs are inextricably woven into the cloud? Malcolm Jackson, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently sat down with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER to discuss how cloud computing is changing the very role of federal CIOs and how the government approaches technology.

Jackson says that cloud computing has allowed CIOs to shift their focus from commodity IT services, which they can contract with vendors to provide, to more mission critical areas and systems. CIOs can now engage more deeply with business processes to maximize productivity, streamline work and provide greater value to agencies. For instance, Jackson indicated that cloud computing enables him to think about how to more strategically use data and information-sharing to drive down costs and help his agency become more efficient in achieving its mission.

Cloud computing is also central to the administration's Digital Government initiative. While Jackson says we're just seeing the beginning of the initiative -- much more work remains -- the initiative should eventually accomplish three objectives: first, to enable mobile access for the American public; second to prepare the U.S. government for the use of mobile devices; and finally to better leverage the private sector to "deliver capabilities that could help unlock the power of government."

For his part, Jackson has issued a "mobile first" directive, which requires that any new public-facing EPA application be developed for mobile devices first. Rather than building apps for each of the various mobile platforms out there, the EPA is focusing on web-based apps with responsive designs that can recognize a user's device type and return the information in a format based on the specific type of device.

The mobile first directive fits into the EPA's long-standing commitment to information access. Jackson calls the EPA a very open agency and a big supporter of, but one that does not necessarily know exactly which information the public might find most valuable or how it would like to use the information. To overcome this hurdle, the EPA has hosted challenges to see what apps the public could create with its data and has more recently established a developer site, complete with sample code and APIs to help it better understand how the public wants to use EPA data. The site provides an important feedback mechanism for the public to ask questions and request the type of information it would like, all in the spirit of promoting transparency and helping the EPA determine how to make the most useful data available.

How does Jackson envision the future? In short, he sees greater transparency, fueled by public participation. He sees a world in which "we will look more closely outside of the federal government to leverage the public to help us around developing applications that really provide more transparency around our information."

You can listen to the full interview, which also touches upon what Jackson sees as the government's biggest challenge and the differences he sees in being a CIO in the private and public sectors, here.