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By Steve Kelman

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More ELC observations from Steve Kelman

These are sort of random, as my kids would say, but here goes -- what they do have in common is that these are things I'm hearing from more than one person, things that seem to be on people's minds:

1) The biggest change going on right now in terms of what people expect from technology is social media. By this, people don't just mean Social Media with capital letters (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), but the idea that communication using technology should not be just one way, from sender to recipient -- from an agency to the public, in government's case. The social media idea with lower-case letters is that recipients should be given a chance to react to messages, and in many cases to help adapt or shape the messages.

2) Government needs to get much better at "fast failure." This is the good middle ground between the exaggerated risk aversion that comes from never being willing to fail and a "who cares if we fail" attitude that can bleed to quickly into indifference about results and success. In the IT arena, fast failure fits in to the idea of modular or agile development, getting increments out quickly so one can find out whether they are working, and make quicker go/no-go decisions.

(There is one caveat here, though. The organizational scholar James March has noted that organizational changes typically produce productivity declines early on, because people are trying new things and there hasn't been a chance to go down the learning curve. "Fast failure" needs to give some time for people to adapt before leading to that decision.)

3) A number of people noted the relative absence this year of senior contracting people at the conference. This may be a budgetary issue, or just a coincidence. The worry, though, is that this is a sign of declining interest of contracting people in working together closely with IT and program customers. One of the best changes coming out of the 1990's was a "customer service" orientation in contracting that encouraged ties between contracting and the people on whose behalf contracting folks are buying. Reversing that historic development would be a disaster.

Posted on Oct 25, 2011 at 12:09 PM

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


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    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Tue, Nov 1, 2011 David Bodner

I would caution against over-generalizing one person's experience. But, as people operate more and more in crisis mode, they may find it tougher to make the time-investments in things like one-on-one meetings.

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 Steve Kelman

Ugh, if this is happening, it is indeed depressing, because the government needs now more than ever to engage with industry to work on figuring out how to save money in this budget environment. Any other industry or government folks want to give your observations here?

Wed, Oct 26, 2011

We can't survive to many more government failures. How about just getting it right the first time.

Tue, Oct 25, 2011

Steve, I have seen a distinct decline in the willingness on contracting officials to engage with industry in the past year. It has been a year of empty "industry days," inadequate RFPs, and government contracting officials answering acquisition questions inadequately or not at all. It seems like years of a lack of resources and development of an acquisition workforce is taking it's toll. It is very discouraging at a time when collaboration is the only way to overcome budget challenges.

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