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The Biggest Challenge

By Robert Otto  |  Posted 05-04-2009 Print

In terms of government IT, the biggest challenge facing the Federal Triad is that federal CIOs are torn between using their limited resources - dollars, staff, support, infrastructure, training, political capital - to support existing commitments or initiate new projects. It's hard to justify pursuing a new innovation agenda, considering the extent of the hurdles that the average CIO needs to overcome: 

•    Aging infrastructure that is often unique to each agency;

•    Support costs that rise faster than reductions can offset them;

•    Legacy applications and program with their own sustaining Congressional constituency;

•    Relatively limited control over IT within their agency, including priorities, standards and platforms;

•    A stretched workforce that is rapidly approaching retirement with potential replacements lacking critical skills and institutional knowledge;

•    A contractor community that is often more wedded to maintaining current revenue at the expense of solving the problem;

•    Procurement bottlenecks that maintain the status quo and limit access to more innovative suppliers;

•    An inability to easily share data and information across government due to a lack of common standards;

•    Multiple networks and disparate communications systems that serve to isolate individual agencies; 

•    Lack of a single government network that would reach all employees and would connect seamlessly to every government agency;

•    Hundreds of government website lacking an integrated search function or common architecture; and

•    Agencies pursuing a 'roll-your-own' strategy, where each takes a unique approach to solving a common problem.

In reality, federal CIOs were often being asked to support government-wide priorities with insufficient resources or commitment for doing so. As a result, they remain solely focused on their agency's objectives - and specifically, existing IT commitments - as this was their powerbase that funds and supports their operations. 

So, what's different this time? Will federal CIOs support the Federal Triad? My take is, yes and no. 

By nature, they're dedicated to public service and they're committed to doing the right thing.  However, they also need to rationalize their existing priorities and commitments and will be challenged to give these initiatives the support and attention that they deserve. The net result is that support in the field may be limited and success fleeting.

This raises important questions for how the Federal Triad should respond. First, I believe that they should continue with the five priorities that I outlined earlier, as they're fundamental to the more citizen-centric government that the Obama Administration has promised. 

That said, they also have to put forth a multi-year plan for how government IT should operate. At the vision level, this needs to be a "man on the moon" statement, due to the significant challenges government IT faces. Then there needs to be a roadmap of how to get there. This can't be viewed as a one-time initiative--a strong government-wide vision backed by consistent managerial discipline is what has been too often missing at the federal level. 


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