Digital transformation and IT modernization will expand what's possible in program design and deployment
There will never be a shortage of technology vendors looking to sell products and service "solutions" to government. Lots of these solutions will really and truly provide a solution to real and pressing problems. The challenge to IT leaders in government is identifying what the real problems are and excluding one-size-fits-all-no-matter-who-the-buyer -is offers. Successful IT leaders are going to take holistic views of what their agency wants to accomplish, the service models, the processes and bottlenecks and priorities of the agency and the internal technology consumers -- and THEN make IT strategy. The mission is supposed to be the horse, and technology is the cart.
At Maximus, we have never branded ourselves as a technology company -- even though we have a stellar record for system implementations and producing some of the most innovative solutions going.
Why? Basically, we think about processes and your mission and the relative costs of solving problems before we even look at the IT side of things. Sometimes the best way to help our client government agencies do more and achieve more is to bring in bleeding-edge technology. Sometimes the answer is old-fashioned management consulting. We help governments get results. Sometimes that makes us a tech company. Other days we stand up old-fashioned call centers with outstanding customer service representatives. Sometimes we put Robotic Process Automation or Artificial Intelligence capabilities in a data center next door to that call center. Modernizing government IT requires the solution to follow the problem. (We try to take our own advice here)
Where should government leadership begin when contemplating IT Modernization?
We are talking about complex problems that go to the very heart of what government does, what stakeholders need, and what technology can and should do. Pat answers are easy; offering nuanced, actionable advice is hard. The last thing we want to do is dumb this down. That said, we can share an advisable place to start.
Domain Expertise Must Come First: Government Agencies Have to Keep the Mission in Sight
Talking to domain experts is critical. You will need to connect with people who have deep, meaningful insight into agency operations and robust experience with similar challenges in government and the private sector. This kind of perspective and expertise may or may not come from inside. Former agency subject matter experts may have knowledge. It's also possible that challenges are so new and evolving that someone internal and close to the problem is going to be the indispensable voice. Private sector consultants often have insight into what peer organizations and agencies are doing -- and what pitfalls they have encountered. The main thing is: focus on the main thing. As you may have already guessed, the main thing is rarely the technology itself. Tech should stay behind the horse. Mission and problems take the lead. The best and brightest IT leaders are continually looking at the mission, the people responsible for delivering results, and the problems in their way. The most successful IT leaders start solving problems. Ineffective leaders start looking for ways to introduce technology.
One of the first steps is to enlist domain experts who can bring an understanding of agency operations and experience from addressing similar challenges across both government and the private sector. These experts, who may be former agency subject matter experts or private sector professionals, need to take a 360-degree view of the agency from both a technology and process perspective. Most importantly, they need to be able to ask, "what problem are we trying to solve?" rather than just asking, "which technology should we implement?" The GSA's David Shine has been such a great example of this focus and disciplined commitment to getting IT aligned with policy outcomes and agency priorities.
I already knew that. What's the next step?
Successful IT leaders make sure that the project team gels with the domain experts. 70% of change programs in the public sector fail to achieve their goals due to employee resistance and lack of management support. No tech project succeeds without building trust and consensus and tackling the change management. It is very hard to get people to say "yes" in government, and very easy to find people who are empowered to say "no." The critical element in maximizing the odds of success when introducing technology to solve a problem is building a cohesive partnership between domain experts and the project team. Stakeholders too. People are people wherever you go, and ignoring the human element, or failing to understand what technology users have to accomplish is the fastest way to ensure disaster.
IT Modernization Is the Future of Government Services
IT Modernization is about much more than just upgrades to infrastructure, cloud-based applications, and consolidating networks and data facilities. We are seeing an honest to goodness paradigm shift in how citizens expect services to be delivered, and what kinds of problems computers can solve. IT leaders in government have a real opportunity to transform and improve the efficacy of government services, and we are excited to be helping agencies better align their processes, systems, and outcomes.