Federal IT's Fosbury Flop
There's no shame in incremental improvement. Kaizen and Six Sigma have proven their worth in the private sector, and a constant cycle of tweak, test, adjust is at the core of agile development.
That holds true for tools and technologies as well as the federal IT projects they support. A steady march toward better, faster, cheaper -- be it in racks of servers or a financial management system -- should be the goal of every CIO.
Every once in a while, however, the game changes. Something new comes along, and things that were impractical if not impossible can suddenly be reconsidered.
In track and field, the Fosbury Flop was that sort of game changer. By inventing an entirely new way to clear the high jump, Dick Fosbury won a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics -- and rendered the old records and sense of limits obsolete.
So as we ease into 2014, it's worth asking: What could be the Fosbury Flop of federal IT?
Ray Kane, who has been in the federal IT marketplace for nearly five decades, suggested to me recently that it could be the plummeting price of storage. Big data gets all the headlines, he argued, but it's the negligible cost of keeping virtually everything that could enable agencies to redefine what's possible.
Others have suggested machine learning and neural networks (something FCW explored last July) or the possibilities of quantum computing.
My money, however, is on management. I don't expect any agencies to join Zappos in embracing "holacracy," but I do think we'll see teams and projects run in radically different ways -- and at least a few of those experiments will make the standard operating procedures look like 1950s high-jumpers.
The trick, of course, is giving such experiments enough space to fly -- and not making the experimenters afraid to fail. If we can do both, then 2014 could be a very good year indeed.
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN, as well as General Manager of Public Sector 360.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.