When Mark Schwartz became CIO of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the Department of Homeland Security in 2010 – taking charge of 2,000 people and a $600 million annual budget – he wondered how on earth he was going to make such a vast organization move.
“The IT department was releasing to production on an 18-month cycle, the transformation program had spent about $1 billion on a software effort that had so far yielded no results and there was another project where, for the previous four years, 21 people had done nothing but assemble a bunch of documents. It would be fair to say it was a low-frequency organization – one where change happens very slowly,” Schwartz told an audience of executives at the AWS Summit in London in May. That just wasn’t good enough for an organization which is often required to respond at breakneck speed to hastily-announced policy changes by its political masters. But move it did. By the time of his departure in 2017 to become Enterprise Strategist at AWS and an acclaimed business strategy author, Schwartz and his team had overseen a remarkable transformation at USCIS. “Some of our systems were deploying to production three or four times a day rather than once every year and a half. We’d created rapid response teams we could field around the country and we were running hackathons that produced new applications every time. And if we can do it at Homeland Security, you can too,” he said.