Wednesday, January 23, 2013
IT can be a tool to change the way your agency does business, to redesign work processes, and to eliminate inefficient ways of working.


SUBJECT: Technology

While you may not have come to Washington to manage information technology (IT), you should pay attention to it for two reasons. First, if you leverage IT effectively, it will help you achieve your goals. Second, if IT is managed poorly in your agency, it has the potential to thwart your agenda, tarnish your legacy, become a major distraction, and take up a large amount of your time and energy.  As an ancillary incentive, competitive recruits often list technology as one of the factors that determines where they will apply—meaning that your agency will attract the best candidates only if your technology is appropriate.

While IT is an area which is subject to hype, over-promises, and significant risks, it also has great potential. You have more flexibility with technology than in changing the amount of funds your agency now has. IT can be a tool to change the way your agency does business, to redesign work processes, and to eliminate inefficient ways of working. Technology also increases economies of scale.

There are five elements to managing information technology successfully in your organization – these elements hold true for technologies old and new, and regardless of whether you are moving to the cloud, leveraging big data, pushing forward with social media, or taking advantage of the many innovative technologies to come.  They are:

Begin with your policy and program objectives.

Begin with what you want to accomplish. Then, and only then, bring in the technology experts to assess how technology can help you reach those goals. Get them to frame the technology agenda in terms of the mission to be achieved or the customers to be served. The technology agenda might include better service delivery, lower costs, or more transparency. The technology agenda linked to your mission is not faster processors, more bandwidth, or infrastructure.

A large number of big government IT projects involve upgrading infrastructure or various support systems, such as financial management systems. Though important, this is not where the big payoffs are. Infrastructure and financial systems should be viewed as means to an end. Make sure someone is watching them, but put your energy in the efforts to enhance what your agency actually does. Make sure those projects are driven by the mission, not your IT or financial folks.

Technology can be the enabler of new ways of doing business or can be used to make your existing business model more effective or efficient. Your vision can embrace either or both. If you embrace it as the enabler, consider getting other organizations to do some of the work and even to support your mission. Plan on significant changes to what work needs to be done. Look to similar organizations for lessons on how best to pursue this strategy. If you focus on improving the current business model, plan on fewer and more formally managed operations supporting multiple programs. These will replace the multiple program-specific applications that are typical in the government.

Get a handle on your ongoing IT projects before there is a crisis.

Large IT projects often fail. In the federal government they fail publicly. It is a near certainty that your agency has projects under way that have been going on for years, with past or planned expenditures in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It is important for you to get a handle on these projects early in your tenure. You should consider bringing in outside experts to do a quick independent review of the projects and give you a sense of the risks the projects face. You should act on their recommendations.

You should also ensure that your chief information officer (CIO) has a process for reviewing progress on an ongoing basis. You should request that projects provide incremental deliverables every few months.  Additionally, you should ensure that your CIO and your CTO—chief technology officer—work closely and comfortably with one another.

Make sure that the deliverables are used, user satisfaction is measured, and the results are factored into later phases. Even given all this, be prepared for a crisis involving a system development effort getting into trouble. Have a contingency plan.

Make sure you have capable, qualified, and effective chief information and chief technology officers.

An effective CIO, coupled with an energetic CTO, will be critical to your success and each must be able to deal effectively with technology, information, and the agency mission they support. Your CIO must have strong program, technical, management, and people skills, and will be the person who translates mission needs into technology solutions. This is a difficult job and those with the needed skills are in short supply.

A key component of the CIO job will be to work closely with the Office of Management and Budget to secure resources and to respond to its oversight of your agency’s projects. Your CTO must understand your agency’s data as well as the community of specialists and aspiring entrepreneurs who will use them—both within and beyond your agency’s boundaries.

Most agencies are limited by legacy IT systems that barely get the work done, cost a fortune to maintain, are inflexible, and lock operations into outmoded approaches. Technically savvy in-house staff is in short supply and much of the work is done by contractors. More modern technology that would give you needed flexibility is difficult to develop and requires a discipline across organizational lines that is rare in government agencies. Your CIO will be critical to ensuring the fluidity of your operations and your CTO is essential to making sure those operations are effective.

Empower your CIO and CTO, but have a process for reconciling IT and other imperatives.

Making programs work depends on combining money, people, technology, and contracts. Effective technical solutions cross organizational lines and require that representatives of the different disciplines work together as a team. Solutions require reconciling various interests. The CIO must have the power to enforce technology decisions. You also will need to ensure that you have a process that reconciles the interests of key players in your department, such as your chief financial officer, and have mechanisms for balancing the very real issues that will arise.

Do not get engaged in the debate over who among the key players in your department is in charge, who is more important, or who reports to whom. Instead, empower the CIO to ensure that information technology issues are properly addressed. Your CIO will almost certainly be turning off obsolete systems, forcing the buying of different software than others want, and directing the migration of existing users to new systems. These moves, though necessary to meeting program or customer needs, will clash with existing ways of operating. Expect conflict, but ensure there is a process for resolving it.

Make sure security and privacy concerns are a priority for program managers.

The trends in technology are to connect everyone to everything. Privacy and security problems that were minor with 20 participants are horrendous if millions of people might be involved. It is a possible, though not inevitable, that during your tenure, your agency will lose a laptop full of sensitive information, have a security breach that affects service delivery, or have some other public crisis involving security.

Previous crises mean your agency is already spending millions on compliance reviews and certifications. Your inspector general (IG) is doing reviews as well. Make sure that your senior managers take security and privacy seriously as an operational matter. Your program managers should be regularly testing security and using the results to improve it. They should not be depending solely on IG audits.

You should support these efforts. There is more to security than getting the paperwork right. Have a contingency plan for a possible incident. In short, security should be viewed as part of your program management responsibilities



IBM Center for the Business of Government Resources on Technology:

An Open Government Implementation Model: Moving to Increased Public Engagement - Young Hoon Kwak and Gwanhoo Lee – 2011

Professors Lee and Kwak present a road map — the Open Government Implementation Model — that agencies can follow in moving toward accomplishing the objectives of the 2009 Open Government Directive.

Mitigating Risks in the Application of Cloud Computing in Law Enforcement by Paul Wormeli – 2012

Because of improved communication and real-time information, the law enforcement community can plan where to place resources ahead of time, instead of only reacting to events after they have occurred.

Working the Network: A Manager’s Guide for Using Twitter in Government - Ines Mergel – 2012

This guide details the benefits - and risks - of hosting a Twitter feed.

A Best Practices Guide for Mitigating Risk in the Use of Social Media - Dr. Alan Oxley, MBCS, CITP, Ceng - 2011

Social media continue to grow across the globe, and the United States federal government is no exception. The administration and Congress actively and increasingly use social media to communicate, to take information in, and to collaborate across boundaries.

Using Wikis in Government: A Guide for Public Managers - Ines Mergel - 2011

Dr. Mergel describes the managerial, cultural, behavioral, and technological issues that public managers face in starting and maintaining Wikis.

Using Online Tools to Engage – and be Engaged by –The Public - Matt Leighninger - 2011

While all federal agencies have developed “open government plans,” many managers find themselves unfamiliar with what tactics and tools work best, under different scenarios.

A Best Practices Guide to Information Security - Clay Posey, Tom L. Roberts, and James F. Courtney - 2011

The report addresses how the human factor in information security has been the weak link in a much interconnected chain.

How Federal Agencies Can Effectively Manage Records Created Using New Social Media Tools - Dr. Patricia C. Franks, CRM - 2010

Federal records management requirements are intended to preserve and provide access to government documents for citizens today and in the future. But have these requirements become barriers to citizen efforts to use social media tools-- such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – to engage with their government?

Cybersecurity Management in the States: The Emerging Role of Chief Information Security Officers - Marilu Goodyear, Holly T. Goerdel, Shannon Portillo, and Linda Williams - 2010

The importance of safeguarding information created and shared on computers and the internet has increased significantly in recent years, as society has become increasingly dependent on information technology in government, business, and in their personal lives.

Using Geographic Information Systems to Increase Citizen Engagement - Sukumar Ganapati – 2010

Professor Ganapati traces the evolution of the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in government, with a focus on the use of GIS by local government.


Moving to the Cloud: An Introduction to Cloud Computing in Government - David C. Wyld - 2009

Dr. Wyld examines the entry of the cloud computing phenomena into the government. He avoids the technical language and focuses on the business and societal impacts of cloud computing. He examines how this concept has changed the expectations of both the public and of government executives and managers.

Creating Telemedicine-Based Medical Networks for Rural and Frontier Areas - Leonard R Graziplene, PhD - 2009

Advances in sensor technology, wireless networks, mobile monitoring devices, and telecommunications have all made it possible to address the increasingly dire shortage of health care professionals in rural areas. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided funding to support a telemedicine infrastructure for rural areas.

The Role and Use of Wireless Technology in the Management and Monitoring of Chronic Diseases - Elie Geisler and Nilmini Wickramasinghe - 2009

Carefully monitoring and managing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, is a critical component in reducing emergency care and hospital stays. If care of chronic conditions is well-managed, studies suggest that the risk of complications and death can be reduced by up to 25 percent. Wireless technology, also called "telemedicine," allows diagnosis, treatment, and follow up for at-risk populations such as rural, poor, and elderly patients.

The authors conclude their report with a series of recommendations to government leaders and public health agencies on expanding the use of telemedicine in ways that will reduce healthcare costs and increase the quality of life for those with chronic diseases.

Government in 3D: How Public Leaders Can Draw on Virtual Worlds - David C. Wyld - 2008

This report is an example of how Web 2.0's "teen toys" have become a serious work tool. It explores how cutting-edge government organizations are using 3-dimensional virtual worlds on the Internet to conduct training, recruit new employees, and educate the public. It also provides a guide to how virtual worlds have become a fast-growing social phenomenon that believe that, by the end of 2011, fully 80 percent of all active internet users will be participating in 3-D virtual worlds.

Biometrics: Enhancing Security in Organizations - Babita Gupta - 2008

This report evaluates the use of biometrics in governmental organizations as well as the private sector. It makes recommendations on how biometrics can be implemented effectively. A key lesson is that organizations need to develop a clear business case that explains the need for biometrics. T

Best Practices for Implementing Agile Methods: A Guide for Department of Defense Software Developers - Alvin E Tarrell and Ann L Fruhling - 2008

This report describes the Agile software development philosophy, methods, and best practices in launching software design projects using the Agile approach. It is targeted to Defense Department software developers because they face broad challenges in creating enterprise-wide information systems, where Agile methods could be used most effectively. Though not a panacea, agile methods offer a solution to an important class of problems faced by organizations today.

Leveraging Web 2.0 in Government - Dr. Ai-Mei Chang and P.K. Kannan - 2008

This report presents the potential uses of social computing in government, discusses the barriers to Web 2.0, and presents what citizens think about Web 2.0. Interestingly, citizens in different age groups are open to new government initiatives to deliver services over the Internet using the interactive capabilities available in Web 2.0.

Transforming Information Technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs - Jonathan Walters - 2009

Jonathan Walters' report chronicles the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) efforts to realign and centralize its information technology activities. Describing it as an "ambitious, audacious and arduous crusade," Walters makes it very clear that this is still very much a work in progress. There are significant hurdles ahead and certain significant adjustments will no doubt need to be made for this ambitious undertaking to be ultimately implemented and sustained by the VA. Yet at the same time, the effort offers the VA's new leadership a clear and established roadmap for moving the effort forward, because a lot of hard work has been done for them.

In addition to his captivating description of the VA experience, Walters also identifies ten lessons learned - based on the experience of change management at the VA - which are clearly applicable to any organization confronting a change management initiative.


Read about our efforts to update the Operator's Manual.

Read our other Operator's Manual Blog,an update of Chapter One: Leadership.

Read our update of Chapter Two: Performance.

Read our update of Chapter Four: Money.

Read our update of Chapter Five: Contracting.

Read our update of Chapter Seven: Innovation.

Read our update of Chapter Eight: Collaboration.

Read the original chapters of the Operator's Manual.

Read materials related to Governing in the Next Four Years.