Organized change

Neither government nor industry is organized to deliver the maximum value of information technology investments to citizens.

The Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office recently released the performance reference model, which sets out a framework for documenting the mission, business and desired customer results of IT investments. Mission and business results capture the outcomes agency officials seek to accomplish, such as reducing pollution or catching criminals. Customer results, such as timeliness and accuracy, capture how well a program serves its customers.

Clearly, progress has been made in describing and quantifying how IT investments will make measurable, cost- effective differences in mission performance. Increasingly, buyers and suppliers understand business solutions, their effects on business processes, and the link between technology and mission.

Unfortunately, although technologists and business-process owners now communicate better, they do so via structures that inhibit the full description of requirements and implementation of solutions.

On the government side, horizontal and vertical barriers compartmentalize understanding. Horizontally, offices responsible for communications infrastructure, enabling Web services, and acquiring and maintaining applications remain isolated from one another. Vertically, interdependent programs stay stovepiped within agencies. Efforts under the President's Management Agenda to break down barriers are stymied by Congress, turf battles and inertia.

The telecommunications industry remains tied to its roots as a regulated utility that transports signals with limited value added. Applications developers attempt excellence in their niches. Web services firms try to bridge technology gaps. In responding to a fragmented market, industry stays disorganized.

This is made more complex by the presence of systems integrators, whose principal role is to try to pull the elements together. They are less than expert in any particular field, aware of their power to define the direction and pace of change to their benefit, and hurled into the front lines of a culture clash among their subintegrators and within their organizations. It's often a no-win situation.

Of course, there are exceptional organizations in both communities that belie these generalizations and are succeeding in creating workable, integrated environments.

Market forces shape industry. Policy and politics shape government. Virtual organizations and other more informal arrangements have emerged to keep up with today's need for change. Increasingly, we must ignore or work around formal structures, investing instead in informal ones such as the CIO Council's working groups and industry teams that form around big procurements. This is the only answer, and it requires flexibility and the readiness to take risks and share credit.

McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget, is president of McConnell International LLC (www.mcconnellinternational.com).

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