State Department CIO Stuart McGuigan shared today how an IT oversight council and increased emphasis on data strategies are helping the agency improve effectiveness and efficiency of its services.

Speaking at a Jan. 28 ACT-IAC federal insights exchange session, McGuigan touted the agency’s pivot to an enterprise-wide perspective on technology investments through its IT Executive Council (ITEC). Six specialized working groups on different IT focus areas are connected to State’s enterprise decision-making body – the Executive Governance Board (EGB) – through ITEC to provide insights.

“We created an oversight mechanism. We created visibility across the department … Everything we do will now have an enterprise perspective on it,” the CIO said. “And where we choose to be decentralized and federated, it is an active operational architecture decision that we have made because we believe this is the best way to fulfill the mission effectively, as well as efficiently.”

For similar reasons, the State Department also strategically established its CDO office outside of the IT department. Instead of thinking of data from a technology standpoint first, McGuigan explained, data is used fulfill a mission objective.

“It was important to establish the Chief Data Officer outside of IT. That was to aggregate the business requirements around data to help different bureaus understand the value of their data, articulate that, and help us prioritize it,” he said. “Once you tell me what data is important, and we provide the resources, I can set that in motion in terms of creating the right sort of data and datasets and databases within our infrastructure.”

According to McGuigan, traditional systems restrict the structure and purpose of data-based applications, and fail to consider how data could be used for unrelated, broader purposes. With a CDO office independent of IT services, data investments are more likely to be a part of the business considerations at-large.

McGuigan added that the President’s Management Agenda and congressional initiatives centered around data strategy give agencies the ability to focus on critical areas that advance their missions.

“It’s enormously useful and ties right into our approach to having mission-driven and data-driven strategies for what we invest in technology, where we invest, and when we invest across the department,” he said.

McGuigan also said the State Department’s relatively quiet transition to the cloud helped the agency realize the advantages of a more reliable data center infrastructure.

“Between cloud, the ability to scale up/scale down, and agile, the sweet spot of technology is moving to the sweet spot of State. I see a great cultural fit with the ability to deploy technology,” the CIO said.

Despite the IT transformation progress that McGuigan discussed, State is still receiving poor reviews on its IT department from the Inspector General and Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) scorecard alike. On that front, the CIO told MeriTalk that he is looking for ways to make sure these metrics accurately reflect the department’s progress.

“One of the things that I better understand now is just because we’re making progress in cybersecurity maturity and IT maturity, if we don’t pay attention it doesn’t really show up as we’d like in the metrics,” he said. “We’re actually doing pretty well and we don’t think that the scorecard fully reflects our progress, but that’s our fault. Maybe we need to we need to pay more attention.”

McGuigan predicted that future reports will “show significant progress” as projects that are underway come to fruition in the next reporting period.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.