IT management challenges for government
Considering the size and scope of the federal government's responsibilities, it is not surprising that IT management is a perennial challenge. Agencies must oversee and maintain a huge range of IT systems on an ongoing basis, all while dealing with increasing data, growing security threats and aging technology.
In order for the federal government to effectively tackle IT management, it is first necessary to recognize the nature of these challenges and why they can prove so difficult for agencies to handle efficiently, effectively and safely.
"The GAO report identified 32 high-level problems for the federal government."
A top-tier concern
The extent of federal IT management challenges can be seen in the latest risk report from the Government Accountability Office. This biannual study is designed to reveal areas where federal agencies are particularly in danger of falling victim to fraud, misuse and mismanagement. This report highlighted 32 specific high-level problems or areas of concern for the federal government.
Notably, this GAO report added two new items to the pre-existing list. One of these was the need to manage risk and improve health care at the Veterans Affairs department. The other was the importance of "improving the management of information technology acquisitions and operations." The study went on to explain that while Congress has passed legislation and the administration has taken steps to address this issue, these efforts have proven insufficient.
"Nonetheless, federal IT investments too frequently fail to be completed or incur cost overruns and schedule slippages while contributing little to mission-related outcomes," the report explained.
The GAO noted that federal agencies invested billion of dollars in IT projects which ultimately came up short due to ineffective management. Of the more than 730 specific IT management recommendations offered by the GAO over the past five years, less than one-quarter have been fully implemented.
The GAO provided a number of examples of shortcomings in this area. For example, the government invested $5 billion in a new weather-satellite network that was eventually disbanded by the Obama administration, The Washington Post highlighted. And perhaps the most obvious example would be the initial failure of HealthCare.gov, which caused tremendous turmoil and upheaval upon its launch.
Critically, it is important to note that these issues are not unavoidable, but rather come about as the result of misplaced priorities, miscommunication and a lack of oversight and expertise.
There are also significant financial issues that are further complicating and undermining federal efforts to achieve effective IT service management.
"Federal IT spending will drop 5% by the end of the year."
Significantly, a recent Gartner study found that rising U.S. dollar strength will have a major, negative impact on government IT, Computer Weekly reported. The source pointed out that as the U.S. dollar grows stronger, IT spending will likely dip 3.5 percent by the end of this year across all sectors. In the public sector, the effect will be even greater, as Gartner is forecasting a 5 percent decrease.
The source pointed out that the decrease in IT spending among federal agencies is being further driven by the austerity strategies embraced by governments around the world.
In light of all of these problems and challenges, the obvious question is how government decision-makers can go about improving their performance in the realm of IT management.
"Of the $80 billion the government spends on IT, $64 billion goes toward maintenance."
Taking an extreme view, InfoWorld contributor Bill Snyder recently asserted that the only way to truly fix government IT at the federal level is to "start over." Snyder emphasized that of the $80 billion the government spends on IT, $64 billion goes toward maintenance, according to government CIO Tony Scott. What's more, federal IT comprises nearly 800 distinct supply chain systems, more than 600 HR systems and approximately 6,000 data centers. The complexity of this landscape makes it inevitable that problems will arise, many of which are exceedingly costly and difficult to resolve.
Snyder spoke with Steve O'Keeffe, founder of the MeriTalk online community, who asserted that this complexity is largely the result of a lack of standards when it comes to federal IT management and leadership. Addressing the issues which plagued the HealthCare.gov rollout, O'Keeffe noted that it was very possible that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the Affordable Care Act, did not need to build the new system, as there are many potentially viable commercial options available. This is indicative of the misguided approach to IT management that can be found in many aspects of the federal government.
Snyder further pointed out that data tends to be extremely siloed throughout the federal government. This makes it even more challenging for agencies to achieve efficiency and maximize productivity in the IT space.
Completely overhauling federal IT, while perhaps tempting in theory, would be almost unthinkable in practice. However, many of these smaller problems – a lack of standards, miscommunication between departments and so on – can be alleviated if agencies bring in outside help to provide experience-based guidance and creative problem-solving to IT and data management challenges.