Commentary

Preparing for the future of federal IT

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Changes in the work environment have created a significant gap between the current state of federal IT and the demands and expectations for its future state. The speed at which IT is currently addressing these changes does not match the pace at which business leaders' and end-users' expectations are changing.

Part of the change is driven by the democratization of IT. A large and growing share of business leaders and users are demonstrating greater knowledge and confidence in technology selection. Consequently, they will play a bigger role in obtaining and managing technology for themselves without specific oversight and control from the IT department.

In fact, most IT leaders we've talked with have said business partners will lead more of their own technology initiatives regardless of what IT does because those initiatives are critical to achieving their mission objectives.

In the next three years, the realities of the new work environment, budget pressures and expanding expectations for IT will present critical opportunities for CIOs and other federal IT leaders to:

  1. Establish IT as a broker, not a builder. IT's primary contribution must shift from being an internal developer of custom solutions to being an adviser and integrator of externally developed solutions. That need will only increase as more mission partners expand their interest in buying technology solutions and cloud-based services. The IT team can serve as a "vendor risk adviser" by evaluating trade-offs and providing information on companies' financial solvency and performance.
  2. Promote enterprise-level portfolio management. Government IT budgets are under continued pressure, forcing IT teams to broaden their definition of portfolio boundaries to optimize assets and take an enterprisewide approach to achieve efficiencies. The drive for continuous cost improvement must also include a new approach to ongoing operations and maintenance, which currently consume 80 percent of the average government IT budget. Structural cost improvements can only be achieved through a total life cycle approach to cost management, including retirement of legacy systems.
  3. Use IT to drive employee productivity. CEB research shows that almost two-thirds of employees give failing grades to the productivity tools offered at their organizations. Our benchmarks also show that when IT is effective at delivering critical technology capabilities, employees are five times more likely to be productive in their work. Given the critical nature of IT in enabling telework and effective virtual collaboration for team members in disparate locations, IT leaders should partner with the human resources department to identify and share the best solutions employees are using.
  4. Transition to true risk management. Security's success is no longer based solely on the implementation of foundational technical controls and the ability to protect the perimeter from external threats. Effective security teams will focus more attention on proactively mitigating risks from internal users (both malicious and accidental) and external hackers.
  5. Facilitate better decisions from big data. The exponential growth of information sources and rapid changes in demand have created difficulties for prioritizing cross-functional and cross-agency information needs. The most progressive IT organizations will significantly increase their focus on managing information as an asset and facilitating information flow across agencies and to the public.

As IT leaders begin a new fiscal year, factors that are difficult to predict are weighing heavily on their minds, such as the budget situation and anticipated turnover of key political appointees. However, rather than waiting for change to be forced upon them, IT leaders need to assume responsibility for proactively stewarding change for government IT.

About the Authors

Kris van Riper is a managing director at CEB.

Lon Zanetta is a leadership transition mentor at CEB.

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