Improving Communication and Governance is Key to Government Technology Transformation
As reported recently in Federal Computer Week, the news was mixed with regard to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) scoring of federal agencies’ efforts to implement improvements mandated by the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). While some agencies demonstrated notable success, more of them saw a decline in their grades than those that improved.
As reported, the slippage may be due to the transition in administration and need for more empowered CIOs. But the objectives of FITARA and technology modernization can be greatly aided by improving governance, communication and collaboration within federal agencies. And in this regard, the changing administration is a big asset – as it provides an opportunity for program personnel and technology teams to seize on the White House technology initiatives.
Too often, a lack of communication between program, contracting, IT staff, end users, finance, legal and other government personnel results in IT projects that get off to a bad start with program risks not readily visible to leadership. In many cases, management is unable to intervene in time to bring those programs back into line.
Effective communication can best be addressed by reevaluating existing IT governance structures and encouraging a culture of communication. Such structures should enhance the functionality of integrated program/project teams (IPTs)—cross functional or multidisciplinary groups of individuals that are organized and collectively responsible for delivering a product, service, or outcome, to an internal or external customer.
While functional IPTs require effective workforce planning, highlighting IPTs within governance models will ensure that key stakeholders are brought together in a collaborative environment early in a program’s life cycle. Such collaboration is essential to ensure that perspectives, motivating factors and concerns of each stakeholder are understood by others and addressed effectively. GAO published a valuable report regarding IPTs in November 2016 that highlights the key attributes of IPTs, many of which mimic industry best practices. Most notably, GAO recognized the importance of IPTs with strong executive leadership support external to the IPT itself to serve as an advocate for the team, empowering the team to carry out its responsibilities, and ensuring the team has the necessary resources to complete its work.
In addition, frequent post-award communication among senior agency and vendor executives also is critical to ensuring successful outcomes from a delivery commitment perspective as well as ensuring opportunities to insert innovation throughout the performance of high-priority/high-visibility programs.
Some of the best practices employed by private sector CIOs in leading enterprisewide governance and proactive communication typically focus on the following topics:
- Common future technology vision, roadmap with common architecture
- Common shared services that eliminate duplicative efforts
- Leveraging scale and relationships with vendors and service providers broadly
- Enablement of integrated product/solutions/services teams
- Streamlined communications/collaboration across the enterprise
- Identifying cost efficiency and investment leverage for new capabilities.
Proactive change management strategies also are critical to enabling success of enterprise transformations. Some example initiatives that could be effective in managing change/transformations include:
- Emphasis and investments in strategic and tactical communications
- Communication of flexibilities within governance models and policies to suit the mission of individual agencies or bureaus
- Strong portfolio management with proven prioritization methods
- Transparency and frequent communication of roles, responsibilities, and priorities
- Simplified, clear, and quantified responsibility and accountability
- Establishment of liaisons to other units with domain/mission expertise
- Leadership connectivity and forums for unit level CIOs, CTOs, CISOs, and domain functional owners.
Finally, I would direct readers to the ACT-IAC FITARA IT Management Maturity Model, which covers many of the points above and more. The document does an excellent job of laying out how agencies can develop mature IT governance in relation to the objectives of FITARA.