Vivek Kundra leveraged his experience as the first ever CIO of the federal government to launch his career into business development for emerging markets.
Vivek Kundra has had the kind of career that befits someone approaching retirement. He has been a CIO at the city, county, state, and federal levels. He was already established himself as a technology innovator as the chief technology officer of the District of Columbia, a role he took on at the age of 32. Then, at the age of 34, he was appointed by President Obama as the first ever federal chief information officer. He would institute programs that ushered in unprecedented transparency and cost savings in technology. Now, at the ripe old age of 38, Kundra is the executive vice president of Emerging Markets at salesforce.com. As he describes in the interview herein, each stop has built upon the steps prior, and his government service has offered deep insights which he has taken with him to the private sector.
(The “Beyond CIO” series kicked off with this article, and the all past interviews in the series can be found here. If you are interested in future articles in the series with executives from companies like HP, Symantec, Fifth Third Bancorp, Ameristar Casinos, and Aetna, among others, please return to the Technovation column in the coming weeks.)
Peter High: Vivek, you have had quite an interesting career path that has included city, county, state, and federal government IT executive roles. The federal position was as the first ever federal CIO position. You are now in the private sector, holding the title of executive vice president of Emerging Markets for salesforce.com. What did you gain from your experience in government that has prepared you for a role in the private sector?
Vivek Kundra: There are those who may think of government CIO positions are somehow less than equivalent roles in the private sector. I must say that I treasure my time as a government CIO, and I would not trade that experience for anything.
It was an incredible experience as the first ever federal CIO. I came in with a mandate for change, and I was fortunate that the economic malaise that greeted the Obama Administration motivated everyone to tighten their belts. Throughout my career in government, a key driving principle has been to put the citizen first, and to put him or her at the center of all government activities. We hoped to simplify access to government services, and crack down on wasteful spending.
I had an $80 billion budget under my control, but a lot of the thinking and use of technology was decades old. In some ways, my having been a young leader helped in that I was able to ask the classic “ignorant questions”, like “why do we do things that way?”, and “isn’t there a better or more efficient way of doing things?” This led to such initiatives as the Data.gov platform, which provided the public access to the raw data of the executive branch in order to foster public participation and private sector innovation, as well as the Federal IT Dashboard, tracking $80 billion in IT spending, identifying waste, and generating considerable savings.
Additional topics covered in the article include:
- After you concluded your time with the U.S. government, how did you plot your course from that point forward?
- How have you drawn upon your time as a CIO in your current post?
- Tell me more about the specifics of your current purview. For instance, how do you define “emerging markets”?
- Were you tempted to have your first significant role in the private sector be another CIO role?
- You spoke about the evolving role of the CIO. Now that you have exposure to so many more private and public sector CIOs around the world, what conclusions are you drawing about that role?
- Are there any other trends that particularly excite you?