Comment

Optimistic for 2014

Alan Balutis larger version

It’s hard to avoid the bad news around government information technology and acquisitions these days – the bungled rollout of the HealthCare.gov website, scandals in Navy procurement, small business set-asides still going to $1 billion firms, and the president himself noting the need for a better return on the more than $80 billion it spends annually on IT and calling for the government “to blow up how we procure for IT.” So it's only natural that we ease into 2014 with trepidation.                         

But a recent article in The New Yorker made me pause and reflect. It recalled the last time we sped around the corner from ’13 to ’14. Let me quote from “The Talk of the Town” section in the January 6, 2014, issue:

Lodged ... in our collective memory ... is an image  ... from just a year or so before: a great four-funneled ocean liner, the biggest and most luxurious ever built, whose passengers rich and poor, crowded on board, the whole watched over by a bearded man named Edward John Smith, with the chief designer, Thomas Andrews, along for the maiden voyage, too. Then the ship ...  of itself, unsinkable, until it comes to the ice fields of the North Atlantic ... and sails right on through them to ...  New York.

Because this ship isn’t the Titanic, but its nearly identical twin sister, the Olympic, made at the same time, by the same people. The Olympic not only successfully completed its maiden voyage but became known as Old Reliable, serving as a troop ship during World War I and sailing on for 20 years more.

The story of the two ships is one to keep in mind as we move into 2014. As The New Yorker notes, “our imagination of disaster is dangerously more fertile than our imagination of the ordinary.’’ And so it is in government IT and acquisition. 

As I once wrote in a report for the Industry Advisory Council, “our approach is like that of a physician who studies medicine by only doing autopsies.” Our government is filled with talented IT and procurement professionals. Our industry is filled with committed and ethical partners. Successful IT projects and solid contract awards occur regularly. The management team at the White House is stocked with proven executives from Microsoft, McKinsey, Google and other top firms and some of the hardest working public servants one can find in the world. And a new management reform agenda is forthcoming. 

In other words, there is no need to have a fatal attraction to failure. With a bit of luck, we are on the Olympic, not the Titanic. This isn’t an era of disruption; it’s one of “devastating innovation.” That is how I am entering 2014, and I invite other industry leaders to join me.

About the Author

Alan P. Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems.

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