State's Swart reflects on 23 years in federal IT

Thursday - 8/2/2012, 9:36am EDT

Susan Swart , CIO, International Monetary Fund

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Susan Swart can look back over her 4-1/2 years as the State Department chief information officer and see plenty of successes and plenty of change across the federal landscape.

She led the effort to consolidate the agency's desktop and network functions, implemented an improved messaging systems across the world and helped State jump into social media with both feet.

But the major change she's been in a part of is what happened around and to her over her 23-year government career.

"The major one is now there isn't anything in the government that can function, operate or deliver service without technology," she said. "There were times in past, maybe 5 or 10 years ago, that we could do a lot if systems were down. But not anymore because IT is essential to every function. The complexity of the technology has increased as well. I can remember in my first overseas deployment we had rotary phones. Now you couldn't always get dial tone, but it was much more simple technology."

Swart ended her government career July 31 and will become the CIO at the International Monetary Fund starting Aug. 20.

"I'm leaving for a combination of reasons. I've been back in the states for seven years since my last overseas posting," she said. "I've been the CIO for 4-1/2 years, which is a long run for a federal CIO, and when this opportunity came up it seemed like very good transition."

Swart said she still is learning about her new role as CIO, and the IMF attracted her for several reasons, including its international mission and impact.

During her career at State, Swart worked in Cairo twice, Venezuela, Peru and other positions in the continental U.S.

Swart started out after college with a technical background, programming systems wherever the agency posted her.

After rising to become the CIO in 2008, Swart took on several agencywide systems, the toughest of which was the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART) system.

"It's our official and informal messaging system that every single employee is a customer of," she said. "That was a huge effort. A lot of that success goes to partnering with the business owner and stakeholder. They became owners of that project as much as the IT people who were executing it."

She said SMART provides more capabilities for the way foreign service officers report. Users can add graphics, pictures and links to their official telegrams.

"The complexity of the roll-out centered around the people because it impacted everybody. We needed to make sure everyone felt comfortable with the basic functions," she said. "We initially thought about just doing a very light touch on the human side and relying on online training. In the end, in consultation with the Foreign Service Institute, that wasn't a good approach and didn't go with that. It was too massive and we needed that hands-on roll-out experience."

In addition to the SMART system, Swart points to State's aggressive use of social media, such as Twitter, as a highlight of her job over the last few years.

"I think we've always as an agency been open to the notion that social media is something we need to be involved in," she said. "We were never one of the agencies that blocked participation on any of those kind of sites. We've always had health dialogue about the proper use of social media, and everyone who has a stake in the discussion has been engaged."

Stephen Taylor, State's deputy CIO for operations and planning, will take over for Swart in the interim.

Swart said the next CIO's to-do list includes completing the overseas network consolidation efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development, moving internal applications to the cloud and address some of the human resources issues in the Foreign Service relating to IT.

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