06/17/2014 02:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

White House and FCC CIOs: Think Like A Startup

"Renewing an organization from the inside takes 'intrapreneurs'. - Dr. David Bray

I had the extraordinary privilege to conduct a live and in person interview with Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer for the Federal Communications Commission, and Dr. Alissa Johnson (Dr. J), Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) for the Executive Office of the President (EOP), at CIO Magazine's CIO Perspectives conference in Fairfax, Virginia. Dr. Bray and Dr. J joined Maryfran Johnson, Editor in Chief of CIO Magazine, Michael Krigsman and I to discuss the changing role of the CIO and the impact of technology in government. I have written about Dr. Bray and his sage advice on creating an adaptive culture and Dr. J's sage advice on CIO leadership and lessons learned from an NBA legend.

Dr. David A. Bray, CIO Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Dr. Alissa Johnson (Dr. J), DCIO Executive Office of the President (EOP)

It was fantastic to see both CIOs demonstrate that IT in the government is much more than just speeds and feeds. The lines between the public and private sectors are blurring as IT in the government becomes more data-centric and about providing the ability to make decisions with confidence and trust. Still, when most people think of government, innovation is not one of the first words to come to mind. Here Dr. Bray and Dr. J offer their advice on how to be an innovative CIO in the government. Their advice rings true for the private sector as well.

6 Ways to Deliver IT Innovation in the Government

1. Think like a start-up CIO - When Dr. Bray came to the FCC in 2012, he inherited 207 different legacy systems. To operate as a start-up within an 80-year-old organization, requires a start-up mentality. Dr. Bray provides employees with autonomy, empowering them to develop creative solutions and the opportunity to demonstrate measurable progress. Dr. Bray feels that the CIO does not need to be the only one making decisions and driving change. Bray believes that renewing an organization from the inside takes "intrapreneurs".

The nature of working in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) requires Dr. J's team to be a start-up company every four to eight years. Recognizing that the new IT leadership may have a different vision, they are trying to allow their IT shop to be innovative within themselves so that they can carry that forward to the new administration.

2. Embrace open government - In 2013, there were 7 billion network devices on the face of planet. It is predicted that by 2015 there will be 14 billion and by 2020 there will be 50-75 billion or more. "Our world is changing very fast. We cannot apply linear to what we have done going forward. As IT increasingly becomes more transparent, it becomes a new check and balance to allow government to be horizontal," says Dr. Bray. Open government, the idea that there can be more transparency in government, started about the time that the Web browser came along. The FCC is now making data available on and they recently developed an FCC app, which is the first crowd source map of connection by provider in the U.S. on smart phones. This creates a shift from the public just receiving information, to the public sharing of data that can help.

Similarly, the EOP has, which takes the creation and signing of petitions online. Once a certain threshold is reached, the government has to respond. This is transforming public service, so that everyone can be involved in the shaping of policy and be part of public service. "It's all about the availability of the data and what you can do with it. If we don't know what to do with the data it's useless. It needs to be transparent and in the proper context," says Dr. J.

3. Evolutionary (not revolutionary) driven change management - How can innovative CIOs drive change inside a government agency that usually embraces the status quo? Both Dr. Bray and Dr. J agree that this is intentional and that there are desirable, inherent reasons to push back against too much innovation in government too quickly. "You need to push forward an innovative agenda very methodically," says Dr. J, who recommends breaking off projects in small pieces and thinking small and steady, but persistent and relentless. When it comes to the cloud lots of people are very skeptical, so they can't be "all in". Dr. J went ahead and put in the cloud and to those who said "no", she was able to say "we are already doing it", which lead to a conversation about how else they can be successful with cloud technology.

"You need to push forward an innovative agenda very methodically," Dr. Alissa Johnson

In the FCC, Dr. Bray would love to be able to say in the next 2-3 years that their entire infrastructure is in the cloud, but he needs to be careful not to violate legacy laws that dictate how they procure, namely not engaging in infinite contracts. His recommendation to the private sector is to find a way to sell things to the government in chunks rather than contracts that auto-renew.

4. Collaborate with the private sector - Both the FCC and the EOP have programs that bring in outside innovators for short appointments to help fill a needed skill set, solve big problems and provide quick solutions. This ensures that the government is fresh with new ideas and provides them with needed experience that the existing IT staff lacks.

5. Engage and empower early adopters - When it comes to championing change it helps to learn the narratives that already exist and then find early adopters that are willing to shift narratives. Dr. Bray is a big believer in making yourself vulnerable as a leader. He does this by simply just listening to his staff and letting them have a voice, be part of the narrative and help decide what to hold true to and what needs to be changed. He says the role of the CIO is both to empower the team to try new things and take risks and then take the hit for them if it doesn't work out. It is also the job of the CIO to explain why you are changing things. "Being a leader, you have to be mindful of how much change your IT team can manage, as well as how different groups can handle change," says Dr. Bray.

Dr. J believes in taking advantage of the genius of the crowd and conducts lots of meetings with stakeholders to decide priorities from their perspective. She finds that by bringing different groups together, they are able to collaborate on vetting business requirements. In order to balance the need to have operational stability while pushing an innovative agenda she relies on business metrics and governance as the biggest drivers in deciding how to get biggest bang for buck. "If we can effectively communicate what our business objectives are then we can look at projects from a cost verses value perspective," says Dr. J.

6. Embrace and actively use social media - Both of these outstanding CIOs are engaged and on Twitter every day and Dr. Bray is the 3rd most social CIO in the world. They commit this time to learn more from what people are saying, to stay informed, to more effectively collaborate and to take their networking to a whole new level. Dr. Bray feels that all leaders have blind spots and actively participating on social media allows him to fill in the gaps with relevant information from other people. The fact that I met Dr. J on Twitter which led to co-writing an article on Huffington Post speaks volumes to the networking opportunity afforded by having an active social media presence.

If you are not currently active but are thinking about it, you can get started by building up a community of interest. Refer to my top 100 most social CIOs list and create your own list of the interesting individuals that you want to follow. Next put out informative and interesting content that your audience will find relevant. To help get you going, I would be happy to co-author a blog with you to share with others something extraordinary that you are doing. Dr. J advises to pay careful attention to your personal brand by staying true to who you are and being consistent with your with message and delivery. Dr. Bray suggests following these three rules: be benevolent, be competent and act with integrity. Like I have said, when it comes to S.O.C.I.A.L you need to be Sincere, Open, Collaborative, Interesting, Authentic and Likable. And remember, social is not something you do, it's something you are. I believe there is an art to using Twitter and it starts with the social mindset.

You can watch the full interview with Dr. Bray and Dr. J here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM EST as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.