The real key to technology transformation
The news has been mixed with regard to the Government Accountability Office’s latest scoring of federal agencies’ efforts to implement improvements mandated by the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. Although some agencies have demonstrated notable success, more of them saw a decline in their grades than saw an improvement.
The slippage might be due to the transition to a new administration and the need for more empowered CIOs. But the objectives of FITARA and technology modernization can be greatly aided by improving governance, communication and collaboration within agencies. And in this regard, a new administration is a big asset because it provides an opportunity for program personnel and technology teams to seize on the White House’s technology initiatives.
Too often, a lack of communication among the program, contracting and IT teams — not to mention end users, financial and legal departments, and other government personnel — results in IT projects that get off to a bad start and have risks that are not readily visible to leaders. In many cases, managers are unable to intervene in time to bring those programs back in line.
Effective communication can best be achieved by reevaluating existing IT governance structures and encouraging a culture of communication. Such structures should enhance the functionality of integrated program/project teams (IPTs) — cross-functional or multidisciplinary groups of individuals who are collectively responsible for delivering a product, service or outcome to an internal or external customer.
Highlighting IPTs within governance models will ensure that key stakeholders are brought together in a collaborative environment early in a program’s life cycle. Such collaboration is essential to ensure that the perspectives, motivating factors and concerns of each stakeholder are understood and addressed effectively.
GAO published a report in November 2016 that highlights the key attributes of IPTs, many of which mimic industry best practices. Most notably, GAO recognized the importance of having a strong executive leader outside the IPT who serves as an advocate for the team, thereby empowering the team to carry out its responsibilities and ensuring that it has the necessary resources to complete its work.
In addition, frequent post-award communication between senior agency and vendor executives is critical to ensuring successful outcomes and facilitating opportunities to insert innovation throughout the performance of high-priority and high-visibility programs.
The best practices that private-sector CIOs use in leading enterprisewide governance and proactive communication typically focus on:
- Establishing a common vision for future technology.
- Adopting shared services that eliminate duplicative efforts.
- Capitalizing on scale and relationships with vendors and service providers.
- Enabling integrated product, solutions and services teams.
- Streamlining communications and collaboration across the enterprise.
- Identifying cost-efficiency and investment leverage for new capabilities.
Proactive change management strategies are also critical to the success of enterprise transformations. Examples include:
- An emphasis on and investments in strategic and tactical communications.
- Communication of flexibilities within governance models and policies to suit the missions of individual agencies or bureaus.
- Strong portfolio management with proven prioritization methods.
- Transparency and frequent communication of roles, responsibilities and priorities.
- Simplified, clear and quantified responsibility and accountability.
- Establishment of liaisons to other units with domain or mission expertise.
- Leadership connectivity and forums for unit-level CIOs, CTOs, chief information security officers and functional domain owners.
Finally, I would direct readers to ACT-IAC’s FITARA IT Management Maturity Model, which covers many of the points above and more. The document does an excellent job of laying out how agencies can develop mature IT governance in relation to the objectives of FITARA.
Venkatapathi "PV" Puvvada was elected a senior vice president by the Board of Directors in February 2015. In addition, PV was named president of Unisys Federal in July 2014.
As president of Unisys Federal, Venkatapathi is responsible for driving the company's growth in the federal marketplace by providing innovative solutions in areas such as cloud computing, big data, unified communications, mobile applications and security.
Previously, Venkatapathi served as group vice president for the company's federal civilian agency business since 2010. From 2005 to 2010, he was managing partner and chief technology officer for Unisys Federal, overseeing the company's federal solutions portfolio and service delivery excellence. Venkatapathi joined Unisys in 1992.
A vocal advocate of using technology to help federal agencies serve U.S. citizens, Venkatapathi has served in leadership positions at several technology-related industry groups and has won numerous awards for his contributions. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Professional Services Council, a group that advocates on behalf of the federal professional and technical services industry. In 2007-2008, he served as chair of the Industry Advisory Council, a public-private partnership organization dedicated to advancing government through the application of information technology.
Venkatapathi's contributions have been recognized through numerous industry awards. He is a four-time winner of the Federal Computer Week Federal 100 Award, in 2015, 2008, 2005 and 2003. In 2013, media company Executive Mosaic inducted Venkatapathi into the Washington 100, a group of industry leaders "who drive growth at the intersection of the public and private sectors." In 2010, he was named Government Contractor CTO Innovator of the Year in the large business category by the Northern Virginia Technology Council and Washington Technology magazine.
Venkatapathi holds a master's in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology.