Commentary

Technology offers no silver bullet

Jaime Gracia is president and CEO of Seville Government Consulting, a federal acquisition and program management consulting firm.

An interesting article on Inc.com titled “Is Technology Killing Your Company?” discusses the folly of thinking technology is a silver bullet that can solve the private sector’s deeply rooted problems with performance. The situation is even more acute in the public sector, especially at the federal level.

Many federal leaders and IT initiatives in the past 15 years seemed to focus on adopting new technologies as the key to success, especially when it came to productivity improvements and cost reductions. However, expected improvements have not always materialized, and the federal government’s pursuit of the latest and greatest new technologies has actually been a key to failure because it has kept agencies from devoting time and resources to internal improvements, such as reforming the acquisition process.

Furthermore, the lack of skilled technical and acquisition workers is creating a knowledge vacuum in governance and oversight, which often leads to programs being delivered late, over budget and with little value for the investment.

Equipment can only do so much. Business process improvement is also vital to success because it capitalizes on the efficiencies technology brings. In addition, properly developed requirements can help agencies buy solutions that will truly change the organization, which is ultimately what the federal government desperately needs.

Many in government understand that the disciplines of modular contracting and agile development offer effective methods of improving technology delivery. Alas, culture gets in the way because existing government processes favor larger, more comprehensive projects and a level of risk that is either unknown or not properly managed.

Exacerbating the problem is the demand for “uniqueness,” which hampers innovation because technologies are forced to adapt to broken processes and therefore become inefficient messes of bug-ridden software that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Many agencies want to spare no expense in the search for new technology, but low-cost buying, poor requirements and inefficient market research have resulted in investments that have not made a difference to the government’s equivalent of the bottom line. And the focus on low price has not come with a corresponding reduction in requirements or capabilities. Instead, the government is asking more and more of industry without being willing to pay the higher prices that larger scopes demand.

Investing in the right technology is a wise business decision even in a time of declining budgets because of the savings the technologies can bring in the out-years. However, every technology investment should result in quantifiable improvements and cost savings.

That approach is being used effectively at the state and local level, where more flexibility and a desperate economic environment are driving real change in how agencies capitalize on technological innovation.

The economic situation is squeezing budgets and forcing agencies to provide more services with fewer resources at all levels of government. But state and local agencies understand that streamlining processes and doing the necessary upfront work will give them the ability to implement systems that can automate tasks and improve operational efficiency. The end result is meeting the challenge of doing more with less, which is a government imperative at all levels.

Buying technology is valuable only if it results in faster, cheaper or better service delivery. If not, it becomes another high-risk, wasteful investment that the Government Accountability Office will track and report on. Don’t we have enough of those already?

About the Author

Jaime Gracia is president and CEO of Seville Government Consulting, a federal acquisition and program management consulting firm.

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Reader comments

Wed, Aug 22, 2012

Once again government agencies want improved IT infrastructure and technology but want to keep legacy positions and increase employment ... you can't have both -- improved technology and consolidation means layoffs plain-and-simple. Every other government agency is consolidating IT and infrastructure support into a hub-spoke system which is proven to work yet unionized government agencies seem once again willing to sue and prolong to inevitable rather than move forward, they stagnant in the past.

Wed, Aug 8, 2012 Bemused

It never fails to amaze me that the private and public sectors seem to be doomed to repeating history every so many years...."this technology is foolproof, is faster, better, saves money, processes things faster improving customer satisfaction". Few EVER deliver upon the promises made, and many become dinosaurs due to a lack of funding to do required hardware maintenance and upgrades. The "cloud" is nothing more than the old mainframe mentality, central storage and processing.....seems that was how computing got its big burst of growth when people chaffed at waiting for results from some behemoth located who knew where....Until a review committee asks ALL the pertinent questions, is presented with ALL the facts, and is capable of sifting through the hype versus truth, this cycle will continue

Tue, Aug 7, 2012

Investing in Technology only makes sense if you also intend to invest in the people that support the technology. The National Weather Service is in the middle of a huge deployment of redesigned software, replacing the current AWIPS with a new "AWIPS II" that has a massively redesigned architecture. Yet at the same time the stated intent of Weather Service HQ is to eliminate 80% of the Information Technology Officer (ITO) positions that are the main source of support for these systems. Sounds sort of silly to think new technology can run properly with inadequate support, but then the decisions are being made by people who have no actual knowledge of what the ITO does or why that position is so essential for the upkeep of their new technological wonders.

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