Rubel: Pulling IT together

Last summer, House Appropriations Committee members systematically went after funding for e-government programs in a number of agencies. Federal Computer Week quoted a committee spokesperson as saying, " 'If we don't appropriate funds for something, you can't go around that [and ask] agencies to pony up. We've never been convinced it's a good idea. We've always viewed it as

duplicative and unnecessary.' "

To say that what we have here is a failure to communicate seems an understatement. "Duplicative and unnecessary"? Although plenty of legitimate questions could be asked and judgments could be passed about the Bush administration's e-government initiatives, this kind of language points to a larger problem — and it is not congressional lawmakers' problem, nor is it the Bush administration's problem. It is everyone's problem — and it is a big one.

The terms and language that officials choose for the technology they use in business processes for information have been evolutionary and remain somewhat arbitrary. "E-gov" is a good example. What does it mean? The term has developed as shorthand script for electronic government. But is there a common understanding of what e-government is?

A few years ago, I heard a governor say to a gathering of governors, "We should congratulate ourselves. We have implemented e-gov. For most of us, that means we have automated state processes to the point that we can now do bad things faster than ever before."

Clearly, his perception was that there wasn't a good understanding of the term, but he was also contending that e-government had been adopted to apply to a broad range of activities that weren't necessarily improving the way government conducts business. For the most part, that was a solid observation, and it might be the perception that policy-makers hold today.

The failure to clearly articulate expectations for information technology has many origins, and officials continue to struggle with IT's evolutionary nature. Within any given organization, project or program, a unique set of terms and processes have traditionally been used to identify, measure and communicate outcomes.

As the convergence of business and technology continues, these will evolve, but without adequate focus, they will continue to create confusion. Using effective business tools such as enterprise architectures and portfolio management, officials can begin to map IT processes to business and policy outcomes.

That will enable them to establish relationships to outcomes across each component activity and stakeholder within organizations that are responsible for achieving them. As this understanding unfolds, common language can evolve and communications will improve.

Government officials continue to push the enterprise view, but they repeatedly fail to communicate in enterprise language. The challenge for today's government chief information officers and IT managers is to understand their relationship to every component within the enterprise and drive communication based on this understanding.

This is not easy, but it will ultimately improve expectations on all fronts, create true performance measurability and move government toward sound investment strategies that will deliver the outcomes policy-makers seek.

Rubel is vice president of government strategies for META Group, a consulting firm based in Stamford, Conn.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group