Mike Sade, AFFIRM's unlikely president


It might not rank with Nixon going to China, but Mike Sade was definitely on new ground when he became president of the Association for Federal Information Resource Managers last June.

Sade, the Commerce Department's procurement executive and director for acquisition management, is the first non-IT executive to head an organization that includes a who's who list of IT companies as members and a laundry list of CIOs and deputy CIOs as past presidents.
But Sade, who had served as vice president of AFFIRM the previous year, knew this was an opportunity to educate public- and private-sector IT executives about how acquisition professionals look at IT, and vice versa.

After Sade's year as president ended last month, he looked back with satisfaction on his professional and personal growth, and the organizational improvements.
Sade has been Commerce's procurement executive for five years and has been with the agency for almost 16 years. Prior to that, he was with the Agriculture Department's Research Service from 1982 to 1989.

Sade earned his bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

GCN assistant managing editor for news Jason Miller sat down with Sade in his Washington office to discuss what he learned from his year heading up an IT organization.

  • Age: 44

  • Family: daughters, Taylor, 19, Sawyer, 15

  • Car currently driven: BMW 330 convertible

  • Last book read:The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

  • Hobbies/sports activities: Running, golf, weight lifting

  • Last movie seen: 'Cindrella Man'

  • Worst job: Taking inventory of auto parts

GCN Photo by Henrik G. de Gyor

GCN: What have you learned in your year as president of the Association for Federal Information Resources Management?

SADE: One, managing a not-for-profit, all-volunteer organization takes a slightly different skill set'a gentler hand'more often than not. Another one of the things that impressed me the most was you really do get a sense of how committed to the mission of good government a lot of industry and government folks really are. It makes you feel good. The third thing is the breadth of the issues. It is no wonder that we appear not to have focus. It is hard to prioritize some things and pick one over the other.

GCN: Coming from an acquisition background, never having been an IT person, did you feel like you were walking into a tough situation?

SADE: There was a level of apprehension in how I would be accepted, particularly with regard to dealing with IT issues, and whether my perspective of procurement and acquisition fit in in that culture. The procurement culture is much more risk averse and process-oriented. I also had apprehension of taking the role because, was it just another opportunity for industry to market to someone at a senior level?

GCN: Was it another opportunity for industry to market to you?

SADE: Not at all. I was very impressed. I don't recall a board meeting or anything where anyone wanted to talk to me about [non-AFFIRM] work.

GCN: What has this experience taught you? Are you better prepared as a procurement executive to understand the requirements or culture of IT?

SADE: It broadened my perspective on the breadth of the issues. It gave me more views'some the same, some different'from an IT perspective as well as, perhaps more importantly, greater insights into the view from industry on how we manage IT and what's working and what's not working. Typically, we sit in our offices and organizations and are looking out. Rarely, we have the opportunity to look in.

GCN: Any examples of how your experience with AFFIRM helped you with a Commerce procurement?

SADE: This year AFFIRM focused on cross-servicing, with three forums. I really benefited from those conversations where we had all these different perspectives. As the chairman of the Integrated Acquisition Environment portfolio of the Chief Acquisition Council's E-Government and Performance Management Committee, it really helped me gain some insights into how to manage that better. The strongest thing we did was strengthen our governance structure to make sure and keep us focused on whether we are delivering value and meeting the business case. It also helped us make some hard decisions on funding and what projects to move forward on and at what pace.

GCN: How do you look at acquisition differently now that you have worked at an IT organization?

SADE: I've always touted that acquisition is much broader than procurement. What we have put together here is a role of business broker that we are trying to evolve to where the procurement folks are facilitator of a process to accomplish on the business end. The business broker is not just a procurement person, but everyone involved in that process at some point. Although I spoke those words [in the past], I'm not sure I really understood what I meant. This experience and my involvement in AFFIRM as well as some other forums has really helped me gel, so that now I have a definition when I go out and speak about it.

GCN: Does working with the IT people and industry people give you a different view of your job as well as theirs?

SADE: I joked at the CXO event that procurement was at the center of the universe, because we are the hub for all these things. That is a joke because we are so spread throughout the process there is no hub. It really is this big spinning wheel. The other thing that has impressed me is watching the evolution of the CIO culture. I'm hearing more and more CIOs speak from a perspective that it is not about IT, and it is about solving business problems. IT happens to be a part of the solution that they manage, but their perspective is starting to broaden.

GCN: Do you look at IT any differently? Do you have a better appreciation or understanding?

SADE: I do from a couple of perspectives. My thinking over the last two years has evolved through AFFIRM. Management of IT is not that different. It really just takes sound program management with some level of understanding of the technology. The biggest epiphany has really been a stronger sense of managing IT projects with clear thought of the end user in mind. I don't know if we go into all projects with that thinking, and that should be the first and foremost thing we are thinking about.

GCN: From a procurement perspective, is there not enough focus on end-user needs as well?

SADE: In the procurement realm, there still is a culture of focus on process and fear of protest. I think we are overcoming it, but we need to evolve to a focus on business solutions and facilitating processes.

GCN: What insight has AFFIRM given you about how human resources, acquisition, finance and IT have to work together?

SADE: Clearly there is a need for it. We would improve tremendously that understanding if we could get more procurement and finance types involved in these types of organizations. For example, if we are talking about SmartBuy [the General Services Administration's enterprise software buying initiative] and software asset management, everyone looks at that as a CIO responsibility. But the reality is, it is more of a CFO issue than CIO issue.
Some may take exception to me saying that, because it is about how money is being spent and tracking and managing assets. There are significant financial implications to how well you manage the assets. Underlying all of that is how you procure it and manage that business arrangement if you go to an enterprise license deal. That is where you really get a real need for strong representation from all three organizations. Today we still are looking at it as more of a stovepipe CIO issue.

GCN: How would acquisition benefit from having an organization like AFFIRM?

SADE: I am not a proponent of stovepiped organizations. I would like to see greater involvement from the CXO community in organizations like AFFIRM. That is a role AFFIRM can serve to help people broaden their perspective where all these things intersect. I believe I do my job better because of my association with AFFIRM and my experience. Certainly for those coming up through the ranks, I highly recommend involvement in something like AFFIRM.

GCN: Would you be president of AFFIRM again?

SADE: Absolutely. It is a great organization. The reality is, it is not as much work as you would expect coming in. The commitment of the board members really made this exciting and worthwhile for me. I didn't do any of the heavy lifting from my perspective.

GCN: Anything you would have done differently?

SADE: I don't think I did enough to recognize some of the individual efforts of some of the folks. Even though I served as vice president, it takes a while to get your agenda out there and focus it.

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