The real key to technology transformation

CIO authorities are important, but communication and governance cannot be overlooked when it comes to achieving FITARA’s objectives.

Shutterstock image (by Ismagilov): restructuring business processes.

The news has been mixed with regard to the Government Accountability Office’s latest scoring of federal agencies’ efforts to implement improvements mandated by the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. Although some agencies have demonstrated notable success, more of them saw a decline in their grades than saw an improvement.

The slippage might be due to the transition to a new administration and the need for more empowered CIOs. But the objectives of FITARA and technology modernization can be greatly aided by improving governance, communication and collaboration within agencies. And in this regard, a new administration is a big asset because it provides an opportunity for program personnel and technology teams to seize on the White House’s technology initiatives.

Too often, a lack of communication among the program, contracting and IT teams — not to mention end users, financial and legal departments, and other government personnel — results in IT projects that get off to a bad start and have risks that are not readily visible to leaders. In many cases, managers are unable to intervene in time to bring those programs back in line.

Effective communication can best be achieved 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 who are collectively responsible for delivering a product, service or outcome to an internal or external customer.

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 the perspectives, motivating factors and concerns of each stakeholder are understood and addressed effectively.

GAO published a report in November 2016 that highlights the key attributes of IPTs, many of which mimic industry best practices. Most notably, GAO recognized the importance of having a strong executive leader outside the IPT who serves as an advocate for the team, thereby empowering the team to carry out its responsibilities and ensuring that it has the necessary resources to complete its work.

In addition, frequent post-award communication between senior agency and vendor executives is critical to ensuring successful outcomes and facilitating opportunities to insert innovation throughout the performance of high-priority and high-visibility programs.

The best practices that private-sector CIOs use in leading enterprisewide governance and proactive communication typically focus on:

  • Establishing a common vision for future technology.
  • Adopting shared services that eliminate duplicative efforts.
  • Capitalizing on scale and relationships with vendors and service providers.
  • Enabling integrated product, solutions and services teams.
  • Streamlining communications and collaboration across the enterprise.
  • Identifying cost-efficiency and investment leverage for new capabilities.

Proactive change management strategies are also critical to the success of enterprise transformations. Examples include:

  • An emphasis on and investments in strategic and tactical communications.
  • Communication of flexibilities within governance models and policies to suit the missions 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 or mission expertise.
  • Leadership connectivity and forums for unit-level CIOs, CTOs, chief information security officers and functional domain owners.

Finally, I would direct readers to ACT-IAC’s 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.