Sonny Hashmi has devoted his life’s work to improving federal IT. So it may have come as a surprise when he decided to leave his position as the General Services Administration’s chief information officer to join the private cloud storage company Box. But Hashmi said this latest industry gig is just the next step in helping governments fulfill their missions with the help of technology.
“It’s just the right time and the right fit,” said Hashmi, who officially left GSA Friday. “But I look at this not as a change for me but really as the next step in that continuum. I’ve always been in the government IT space, even when I was in the private sector for many years — I was always involved in government IT solutions.”
Despite the broad line that’s often drawn between public and private IT solutions, Hashmi said it’s critical to form a strong partnership between the two, especially if government hopes to successfully serve Americans.
“I believe that in the future of where federal technology is going, it’s not just about government or industry,” he told FedScoop. “Government and industry have to work together with the right solutions to make meaningful difference.”
So as Hashmi officially begins at Box, leading the company’s federal efforts as a cloud provider, he doesn’t see a huge change in his end goal.
“I think personally in my journey I can add more value in the private sector, especially because the adoption of cloud computing is taking off in the federal government, but many cloud service providers still are struggling with how to develop their products so they can meet government’s expectations,” he said. “I feel that at Box, it gives me the opportunity to do that. They are eager to play a significant role in the federal government’s success.”
The departing CIO’s main role at Box will be to develop the company’s federal strategy “for how Box can actually add meaningful value to agency missions,” he said. In doing so, he’ll be working with many of the same federal agency leaders he did while at GSA and some new ones on the state and local level. Hashmi will also support Box’s efforts to become compliant with the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program.
“Government is not in the business of buying products,” Hashmi said. “Government is in the business of fulfilling its mission. And as part of fulfilling that mission to the American people, the government needs many technology solutions that industry can provide. So my hope will be that I can help on the industry side to find those solutions that make sense for government agencies, help build those solutions and then add value in the process.”
GSA innovation after Hashmi
Appointed acting CIO in January 2014, Hashmi was named GSA’s official CIO last May, a capacity in which he managed a $600 million IT budget. Before that, he served as the agency’s deputy CIO since 2011 under then-CIO Casey Coleman.
While he didn’t serve as CIO for particularly long, his leadership came during some critical technology changes within GSA and the federal government, like the adoption of cloud.
“When I started at GSA about 4 1/2 years ago, the majority of the discussions at the time in the federal government were ‘Can cloud ever work in the government?’ ‘Is it something that will never work?’ ‘Can it even be possible?'” Hashmi said.
He added, “It hadn’t been done before, and I’m very proud to say that the work we did to make that happen became the foundation for how FedRAMP works today. It set the groundwork for many agencies to say, ‘If GSA can do it, we can do it in a compliant way, a secure way.'”
Thus Hashmi was seen as a critical force for his agency’s innovative prosperity in recent years. But he doesn’t think of his role in that way.
“As much as it’s flattering to hear that people think of me as part of the innovative leadership at GSA, I think I’m just one small piece of the puzzle,” he said, listing name after name of GSA leaders who have and will continue to support GSA IT when he is gone, such as Associate Administrator of the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies and 18F Phaedra Chrousos, and Director of Digital Government Gwynne Kostin.
“There’s no shortage of thoughtful, innovative leaders at GSA,” Hashmi said. “I have no doubts that GSA will continue to rocket and propel federal IT forward. My leaving is going to have zero impact on any of those amazing things GSA will do.”
He’s also bullish on his replacement, David Shive, who served as deputy CIO under Hashmi.
“He’s an exceptional leader. I trust him completely. I’ve been lucky to work with him as part of my team,” he said. “David has been involved in so many of the most critical, most challenging problems within GSA’s IT over the last couple years, everything from migrating to our new cloud-based infrastructure to modernizing some of our legacy systems. David has been at the heart of all of that.”
The work is never done
Hashmi will leave GSA with many of his biggest efforts still in development. But that’s part of working with technology.
“IT’s work is never done,” he said. “There’s never a point ever where you sort of look forward and say, ‘Two years from now, we’ll be done.’ There’s no such thing.”
Hashmi said Shive doesn’t need any direction on how to replace him, but he told FedScoop a big part of his responsibility will be to see some of the agency’s current larger IT projects through.
“We have many things in flight,” Hashmi said, mentioning the Common Acquisition Platform, BuildingLink and the modernization of cloud solutions. “These are all amazing, big, long-term projects that are already showing value. I think David’s focus in the next few years is going to be primarily to land them.”
He added, “I know that the teams are in place to get all of these things done, I know that the leadership is there to make sure that it gets done, and I’ll be rooting for the team every step of the way from the outside.”
But even from the outside, Hashmi’s efforts to improve federal IT will continue.
“My whole life I’ve always been involved in making government IT better in some way, shape or form,” he said. “And I’m not about to stop doing that. I’m always going to be continuing to do that, even in my role at Box. And if at some point in the future, the opportunity presents itself for me to serve again in a government role, I would gladly take that up.”