CIA’s CIO: Working with private sector can be a “clash of cultures”

Almost a year after awarding a cloud computing contract to Amazon Web Services, Central Intelligence Agency chief information officer Doug Wolfe on Tuesday said the agency is still adapting to working with the private sector on IT projects.

Wolfe described a “pretty interesting clash of cultures” between the public and private sectors, addressing attendees Amazon Web Services’ annual nonprofit and government symposium at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

For instance, the CIA is subjecting AWS’ cloud product to the agency’s stringent cybersecurity requirements before its scheduled deployment in the summer, he said.

“We’ve had some interesting conversations and debates on security,” he said, adding, “We’re working through that. And I think that we’re going to end up in a very good quality product, and a very secure product.”

The agency is also learning to procure IT services more efficiently when working with the private sector, Wolfe said. Amazon is charging on a cost-recovery basis, meaning the agency will only pay for the cloud products and services they use.

“If you’re a government customer who has been used to just ordering up however much IT you want, and over-ordering typically — which people do, they often order for their peak need — if you’re a government customer used to doing that, you’re going to start getting a bill. You’re going to start seeing exactly what your consumption cost, and start understanding exactly how server storage processing, et cetera, was applied to the problem. So we see this as a tremendous opportunity to sharpen our focus and be very efficient.”

The agency is still looking for ways to “take the best of the private sector, lift it, and . . . be able to operate that for the intelligence community,” Wolfe said.

(Disclosure: Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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