Kundra heads to private sector to focus on ‘what happens next’

Jeffrey MacMillan/For Capital Business - Vivek Kundra, former US chief information officer, discusses his new job at Salesforce.

Vivek Kundra, the first federal chief information officer who became the face of the government’s information technology reform efforts, including shifting to cloud computing, surprised many when he left the government last year for a Harvard University fellowship.

He surprised observers again when after several months at Harvard, he took a job with San Francisco-based cloud-computing firm Salesforce.com. Kundra, now the company’s executive vice president of emerging markets, said he’s particularly interested in transformation related to social networking and the increased engagement the public expects from institutions.

Capital Business recently interviewed Kundra. What follows are edited excerpts from that conversation:

We spent a lot of time talking about cloud — or Web-based — computing when you were CIO. Did you feel like the work on that was done when you left?

“When it comes to cloud computing, I think that’s been decided, and it’s been decided pretty definitively. Agencies have moved to the cloud. ... Agencies are going to continue to move in that direction, but the deeper question for all of us is what happens next. ... What I’ve realized is that the real transformation is going to be around social.”

What did you take away from your time at Harvard?

“When people are so interconnected, when people are able to fundamentally change the world or change policy in a huge way by a single act [such as the Arab Spring], what does that mean for your enterprise? And is the current model of [information technology] even relevant? That was sort of my awakening at Harvard.”

Do you feel more able to effect change from the private sector?

“I served in government for ... the last decade — city, county, state, the federal level. ... When I came into the administration, I committed up front the time I would serve. I was getting to work every day at 4:30 a.m. and leaving at 10 p.m. ... I felt like this was my transition back into the private sector.”

How did you get interested in Salesforce.com?

“When I was at Harvard, a number of technology companies met with me. ... I had a great conversation with [Salesforce.com Chairman and chief executive] Marc Benioff and ... I realized we were in synch with his world view about where technology was headed and what I was seeing in my time at Harvard. ... I haven’t really been interested, frankly, when it comes to money. I haven’t taken a job because of money, and I’ve turned down far more lucrative offers ... to be part of Salesforce, but it’s because I believe in the mission.”

 
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