How to Get Ahead of 2016: Ensuring Federal IT Can Adapt to Leadership Transitions


In anticipation of the leadership changes a new administration brings, an adaptive approach will position federal IT to meet changing priorities while capitalizing on technology advancements.

Liz Joyce and Lon Zanetta are executive advisers at CEB.

As government agencies turn their attention to planning for 2016, one thing is clear: Most political appointees in agency leadership positions today will not be in seat 18 months from now and many may start their transitions early.

Regardless of which party takes office, the new administration will bring its own set of priorities and most will be dependent on a strong digital foundation. In fact, CEB research finds that over 70 percent of executive priorities, across industries and across the globe, are technology dependent. This creates the need for IT to be prepared to adjust to a new administration’s priorities. Because IT will certainly play an active role in the strategy and execution of a new administration’s priorities, federal IT should proactively prepare their organizations now for leadership transitions rather than waiting for Election Day to pass.

Historically, federal agencies’ IT departments have operated in a process-centric, risk averse and siloed way. As a result, there is often little room left for flexibility in managing rapid shifts in priorities. Only 39 percent of business leaders believe that IT investments are aligned with the direction of the organization and 63 percent of business partners believe their IT departments are too slow in responding to technology opportunities.

To adapt to rapid changes in technology and decision rights, organizations around the globe are rethinking their approaches to IT management. This new approach, what we call “adaptive IT,” is one where IT continuously evolves as contexts change so that IT can thrive in any environment.

In anticipation of the leadership changes a new administration brings, an adaptive approach will position federal IT to meet changing priorities while capitalizing on technology advancements. For organizations to successfully implement adaptive IT, they must target shifts in three key areas: strategy, governance and delivery, and workforce planning:

1. Implement an Adaptive Strategy

In adaptive IT, the role of IT is context based, taking on different, targeted activities depending on the needs of the business partners. As organizations prepare for 2016, federal IT needs to be prepared to play different roles in addition to building new systems. These roles include technology consulting and coaching, to help mission partners extract full value from their technology investments. In doing so, several agencies are proactively pursuing portfolio rationalization strategies to reduce the budget burden of legacy systems maintenance and build more flexibility to pursue new priorities.

2. Activate Adaptive Governance and Delivery

Most IT organizations rely on standards and stable processes to keep the delivery of new capabilities on track. However, delivery speed and flexibility will be essential as new technology innovations continue to emerge and there are impending changing priorities from the new administration. Adaptive governance and delivery involves segmenting decision-making authority and empowering IT stakeholders closest to a particular project to make decisions within defined outcome measures. In doing so, IT can quickly reprioritize and allocate its resources to ensure IT service quality is calibrated to business needs.

3. Build an Adaptive Workforce

 An adaptive IT team is not only up-to-date on the latest technologies but is also able to pivot from a technology to the needs of the organization as a whole. This balance will enable IT to engage with the new administration quickly, understand their priorities and position recommendations to provide the technology needed to meet organizational objectives. CIOs can ensure adaptation in their workforces by expanding IT’s competencies and promoting an open environment that allows for collaboration and innovation.    

With so many uncertainties today, one clear priority stands out: to prepare for upcoming leadership transitions. A new administration brings new priorities and policies, and technology is becoming a more critical enabler of organizational success.

Applying an adaptive IT model of strategy, governance and delivery, and workforce planning will better position federal IT organizations to quickly adjust to changing priorities and deliver new technology that will support mission success.

(Image via Bplanet/