D.C. appoints CTO to take over scandal tainted agency

Mayor Adrian Fenty picks entrepreneur Bryan Sivak to lead Washington's technology efforts

The District of Columbia this week hired a specialized search engine developer and entrepreneur as its new chief technology officer, overseeing what is arguably one of the most visible, progressive -- and troubled -- municipal technology operations in the U.S.

New CTO Bryan Sivak is the founder of InQuira Inc. a privately held San Bruno, Calif.-based knowledge management firm, and has long worked on developing search engine technology designed for customer service environments.

Sivak succeeds Vivek Kundra, who left earlier this year after his appointment by President Barack Obama to become the nation's first CIO. That position had been filled on an interim basis since Kundra's departure.

The new CTO joins a technology operation has faced some difficulties this year. A week after Kundra was appointed to the White House post, federal law enforcement officials filed bribery charges against Yusuf Acar, the department's acting chief security officer, in connection with what prosecutors alleged were a number of schemes developed to defraud the District of thousands of dollars. The scheme involved adding non-existent employees, or "ghost workers"," to the city payroll. Payments were allegedly made to those "workers."

After the arrests, Kundra took a leavefrom his new federal post. Once the Obama administration determined that Kundra was not connected to the bribery scheme, he returned to the post.

Kundra gained notoriety and the attention of the Obama administration for his efforts to increase accessibility to government data. He is also a strong proponent of cloud computing.

Mitchell Kramer, an analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group in Boston, said InQuira began operating as a developer of natural language search technology. Later it combined that technology with a knowledge management and search application to create customer service tools that help customers seek product information and help on a company's Web site.

This technology differs from more general Google-type search products by indexing only relevant information that can best answer specific customer queries. Kramer said the market served by InQuira is growing, and is focused on high-end customers. Salesforce.com is emerging as a competitor in that business.

Kramer said it's unclear why someone with Sivak's background was selected for the District CTO's job. "For the last seven years he has worked for small software vendor that has a very narrow and not widely adopted application," he said.

Kramer said Sivak could help the District use IT to provide better services to residents. But he wondered how Sivak will handle more general IT issues, such as changes to the government's general ledger systems, at least in the short term. "I'm sure he is capable of learning that stuff, but it's not clear that he has had the experience in acquiring, building and supporting those applications," Kramer said.

Sivak was not immediately available for comment. In a prepared statement announcing the appointment, Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said that Sivak "brings a wealth of software and Internet technology experience to District government, and we look forward to putting his talents to good use for our residents."

Prior to founding InQuira, Sivak co-founded Electric Knowledge LLC in 2000 along with Edwin Cooper. In 2002 the company merged with answerFriend and the combined company became the basis of InQuira. Sivak had earlier worked as a software engineer at IBM.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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