Federal track record

Although changes in the information technology infrastructure are essential for success, excellent organizations know that new investments must be made carefully. Sometimes the business case supports being ahead of the pack. In other situations, it is prudent to adopt what others have already tried and proven.

Here are my predictions of how the federal government's IT infrastructure will be viewed four years from now in three critical areas: people, value and trustworthiness.

People are the most critical success factor for the effective use of IT. The cohort of young IT professionals is fast, digital and essential to the government's ability to meet citizen

expectations and react to global threats. The new feds are motivated by patriotism, belief in the mission and the stability of federal employment. They are also attracted by possibilities for rapid promotions that have more interesting and diverse challenges than in the private sector.

Leading organizations treat their people with respect and welcome new energy and ideas. They instill organizational culture and values and provide opportunities and resources for growth. Government managers have the flexibility and knowledge to do these things, even in constrained budget environments.

Prediction: The federal government will become a leader in the effective recruitment, retention, productivity and satisfaction of IT professionals.

Creating value, or maximizing the improvement in mission performance from IT investments, is the second most critical success factor. Spending money on systems does not equal managing investments wisely. The government is on the right track, pushed by the Clinger-Cohen Act to make the business case for individual investments and manage the entire infrastructure as a portfolio. But the ability to state where the marginal dollar will make the greatest difference in mission performance remains rare.

The private sector has it easier in this area, because the bottom line is pretty clear. But the field is littered with the casualties of ill-considered investments. The tide turned with the dot-com crash, and business owners have seized control of the technology agenda from the techies. This has not yet happened in the agencies.

Prediction: The federal government will be a follower in linking investments to value.

The third most critical factor is the trustworthiness of the systems and the information that resides in them. Trustworthiness includes reliability and availability, integrity, security and information quality. Systems and information perform their functions correctly. Government's increased awareness of security and its efforts to create information quality standards bode well for progress here.

Prediction: Split decision. Wherever there is a high-assurance application, such as banking or defense, trustworthy computing will show up first.

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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