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A Conversation with Martha Dorris of GSA

MarthaDorrisWe sat down with Martha Dorris, the Deputy Associate Administrator in the U.S. General Services Administration on Friday, November 6th, 2009. We had to opportunity to talk about the shift to cloud computing and some of the top IT trends for 2010. We also got to know what social media/web 2.0 tools she is most proud of at GSA. We even learned how Dorris likes to unwind and what currently keeps her up at night. Here is Dorris on cloud computing:

ExecutiveBiz: Can you tell us a little bit about the shift to cloud computing; specifically apps.gov and what are some of the benefits?

Martha Dorris: Cloud computing is a big subject right now.  We moved the usa.gov infrastructure to the cloud back in May of this year.  Cloud computing has a lot of benefits.  It’s scalable, flexible, it’s very cost effective and for low risk applications in particular it is really critical.  Apps.gov is in its first phase in a very long journey in the federal government to move towards cloud computing.  Apps.gov right now gives the federal agencies access to the terms of service agreements that were signed for GSA so that agencies can look at new media for their use and use our terms of service as a model and the amendments that we signed.  It also gives the agencies access to software as service products.  Soon it will also give the agencies the availability of infrastructure as a service and then that will go on apps.gov probably in the next month or so.

ExecutiveBiz: Can you tell us some of the ways you are planning to reach 245 million citizens in fiscal year 2010?  What are some of the tools you are using to reach your targeted audience?

Martha Dorris: USA.gov and gobiernousa.gov are two of our kind of foundational websites that we use to reach the public.  We are about providing information and services to the public via the web, through those websites, through the phone, we answer the 1-800-FEDINFO number, and we deliver print publications through the distribution center in Pueblo, Colorado.  We are using all of the new social media products as well.  Those 245 million touch points this year it’s around every email, every web chat, every publication, and every phone call that we deliver to the public, every search query, every website visit – we count everything.  That’s where the 245 million came in.  Next year and what we are doing now is we are using all of the new media channels.  We have a YouTube channel.  We created the government-wide YouTube channel.  We have a Facebook page and a Twitter page.  We are really out there always looking at where the public gets their information and going to where the public is as well as how the technology changes so that we can be flexible, agile and move in that direction.

ExecutiveBiz: What keeps you up at night right now?  What are your top priorities?

Martha Dorris: What keeps me up at night is really trying to figure out a way to quickly respond to the new priorities and new requests of the new Administration.  We are being given a lot of opportunity based on the success that we have had over the past couple of years with no additional resources.  We have to continually stretch people, move people around, move them out of their comfort zone and continually reprioritize things based on those priorities.  That’s a continual struggle and something that keeps me up because I don’t want the staff to get totally burned out but we want to be responsive to these requests.

ExecutiveBiz: What are some of the top IT trends you are seeing for 2010?  Do you see anything the same or do you see different ones coming?

Martha Dorris: The IT trends are definitely cloud computing, and search is going to be a big topic.  We know that the users are moving towards more of a search . . . a way of accessing information, the use of data and a data driven government and the technology to actually search the data sets that the government provides is a big deal.  All of the new media products which many agencies don’t know, they are coming online or coming more available; every day there are more and more and more and so just making sure that everyone is aware of the capabilities of these new tools.  I think the whole new media, collaboration platforms, collaboration tools, wikis, and blogs, all that is going to continue to be a big push.

ExecutiveBiz: How is GSA making the government more accessible and transparent?

Martha Dorris: The fact that we are in business to make the government’s information available to the public is by nature transparency.  They have the open transparent participatory government goal and so both the products and services that we’ve done over time fall into those categories but right now we are doing other things.  We are creating a citizen engagement program to help agencies understand how to create an affective dialogue.  How do you create a dialogue with the public that the yield you get out of it is improvements to the business, not necessarily just for just saying you’ve created a dialogue?

ExecutiveBiz: As far as web 2.0 and social media tools – what are you most proud of?

Martha Dorris: I’m probably the most proud of our blog; govgab.gov.  The reason that I would say that is because govgab was done very, very early in the new media push.  Govgab takes every day life situations and puts out an entry everyday so that the average citizen can read it and can understand that the government has useful information that can help them in their life everyday.  It’s not just about in times of crisis, it’s not just for passport information, once a year when you do your taxes and need to find out what your social security benefits are going to be.  The government has a lot of useful information whether it is safety standards for cars or airline information or other safety stuff, health information, food safety, food pyramid, organic food, farmer’s markets – where all of those kinds of things are maintained.  The root of that is through government information; even weather.  If you look at all of the news sources that we have – all of that weather data comes from the government’s NOA and National Weather Service.

ExecutiveBiz: You’ve credited mentors with your success.  Can you tell me about one of them?  Do you have an anecdote or something that brings a lesson that he or she imparted?

Martha Dorris: I had two mentors that I mentioned in the article; Marty Wagner and Frank McDonough.  I worked with both of them for a very long time.  Frank I worked for since I was in my early 20’s until about five years ago when he retired.  We used to have this . . . I kid him because we became such good friends over the years that in any situation I will hear Frank’s voice in the back of my head saying “Don’t do that”, “Let that roll around in your head.”  I can hear his voice just like a parent.  We used to have this brainstorming technique that was really an affective way to . . . it is almost like the current ideations but you do it the old fashioned way.  We posed a problem and told everybody they had five minutes and they had to write down everything that came to their mind and then we would put everything out there and that is what we would use.  You could create a solution or a paper or a product every time by doing it that way.

ExecutiveBiz: Moving to other members of the private sector, specifically government contractors, how would it help them keep the momentum going?  What offerings would peak your interest to get you to talk with them?

Martha Dorris: In terms of other contractors I think just contractors understanding what is in the government’s minds, trying to understand where they are going, what’s driving them is really an important asset to them, if they can take that step.  Things around citizen engagement, collaboration, and innovation – how do you infuse innovation with technology into the government?  One of the things that we are going to be doing over the next year or two is in citizen services and we’ve been fortunate that a lot of the new initiatives are coming our way and one of the things is how do we use the current processes or change the current processes to be able to leverage new and creative technology in the government.  That is really where our interest lies.

ExecutiveBiz: Where, if at all, can leveraging the web 2.0 actually hinder dialogue with the public?  Do you see any places where that can actually be a problem?

Martha Dorris: Web 2.0 is really for the online population.  When you have demographics for people that are either online or the tools are created in a way that is not user friendly to the average citizen – that is going to hamper the dialogue.  There is a certain population or demographic that is growing up . . . my nephew – I talk to him more on Facebook than anywhere else.  Those kids are going to . . . finding things naturally and easy to adapt to but if these dialogue tools are not created in a way that they are easy to use . . . I also think that we have a . . . In our citizen engagement program one of the things that we want to make sure of is that these dialogues are used to improve business.  They can have a lot of resource implications in terms of looking at all of the information and ideas that come in and we don’t want the public to have public dialogue fatigue and putting out information and not knowing what happens to it.  We want to make sure that we are working with agencies to understand the most effective way.

To learn how Dorris likes to unwind click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxXVcm7pkIE

And to find out her advice for government contractors click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYPHWtd81zM

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