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 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 has 20 years of experience in the federal government sector, most recently as president of Seville Government Consulting, a professional services consultancy.


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