So you want to be a CIO? Stop trying to be a chess master and start enabling other people to grow, says John Marcante.
How a change agent saved the FCC millions on a legacy IT upgrade
One of the first tasks Dr. David A. Bray wanted to take on as the new CIO for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission was driving cultural change. A lot of history preceded his arrival, and he knew coming into the role it would be important to listen and learn while also working to encourage a “think different” mindset about the agency’s technology.
Bray worked hard to let employees know he was open to thinking outside the box, while at the same time encouraging them to do the same. And his efforts have already paid off.
More than 18 months have passed since Bray first arrived at the FCC and encouraged the need for experimentation and IT-related transformation. In that time, his department has already had several wins, including one that saved the FCC and the U.S. taxpayers nearly $2.75 million and improved the way the public could provide input into the country’s telecommunications systems.
The Savings are Real
It began with a long-standing need for the FCC to replace its approximately 15-year-old consumer complaint system. After reviewing how other agencies created their consumer complaint systems, including one relatively new agency heralded by many as a "gold standard," it was estimated that it would cost about $3.2 million and take between one to two years to develop a similar system on-premise. Bray did not want to sink such money into an on-premise system; his IT budget was already seriously strained. He needed to find a better way. He would soon learn his efforts to cultivate a network of change agents would soon pay off.
“One of our positive change agents by the name of Dusty Laun made a pitch for doing a SaaS solution that would allow us to basically get something out in less than six months. Dusty came from Silicon Valley, initially working part-time while also commuting back to the West Coast. To his credit, he not only was willing to take the time to build relationships and friendships with the existing FCC staff, Dusty ultimately opted to relocate to D.C. full time so he could make a truly meaningful impact to the future of the Commission and the public,” Bray said.
Laun brought data outlining his idea, demonstrating that if he included the cost of his time, one other employee, and the SaaS solution’s annual license, it would be about $450,000 to do the venture instead of $3.2 million to accomplish the same goal – an 85 percent reduction in cost. It could also be done much faster. The agency could get it done in six months instead of a year or two. The costs to maintain the system would be cheaper too: only $100,000 a year instead of an estimated $640,000 a year to maintain a system on-premise, Bray said.
Support from the Top
“Sure enough, that’s what happened. I backed Dusty’s change agent proposal 100 percent and focused my energies on proactive ‘top cover’ for the cultural change ahead. This included working closely with FCC staff to map our processes to the new approach and identify a way to procure the solution. I also needed to work with IT security to accept the risks of an off-premise solution versus an on-premise one. The successful system went live as a SaaS solution that the FCC now uses as the new Consumer Complaint System, replacing the old legacy solution. Everyone did amazing work,” Bray said.
Bray says a lot of credit goes to Laun for being a change agent, as well as additional members of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau and IT team.
“There were a lot of skeptics to this new approach. Several who wanted to not make the change or even wanted to follow the much more expensive approach. My role was digital diplomat and ‘human flak jacket’ to help deal with any friction because this was a new way of doing things. With the SaaS approach, the data was not going to be kept onsite. We would be leveraging code and security provided by a cloud-based vendor. And in the end, it came together.
“Dusty and the rest of the team deserve major kudos,” Bray concluded. “There are similar efforts in the queue with the Commission’s change agents for 2015. Working together, they demonstrate daily that positive change agents can transform how the mission and technology of the FCC best serve the public.”
Dr. David A. Bray serves as Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Federal Communications Commission, overseeing the Commission's efforts to modernize legacy systems and transform technology partnerships in telecommunications, broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety, and security. He was selected to serve as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and as a Visiting Associate for the Cybersecurity Working Group on Culture at the University of Oxford in 2014.