“Senior leaders in government remain concerned about IT projects”, revealed a good friend of mine following a recent executive roundtable he attended. He went on to note how unfortunate this is given the strong potential that technology has to meet the government’s objectives noted in the speech from the throne and other significant initiatives.
You’ll recall that the speech from the throne (http://www.sft-ddt.gc.ca/ ) calls for a review of administrative services with an emphasis on improving efficiency. It also calls out the launch of a “digital economy strategy to drive the adoption of new technology across the economy.” eGovernment conversations also raise the concept of government as a model user of technology, or even in some cases , a leading edge adopter of technologies through the use of test facilities. So why the reluctance?
There are any number of reasons why senior leaders may be nervous about embracing IT enable service transformation. One leading reason is the uncertain outcomes following several large government IT projects. I believe that this is a result of incongruous timing between policy and technology. Government priorities, policies and even projects often span several years. One great example is New Brunswick’s goal to become self-sufficient by 2026 (http://intraspec.ca/report-E.pdf ). Started in 2007, this initiative had a close to 20 year time horizon. If we shift to have a look at the technological pace of change where new features / services are being delivered on an almost weekly basis, especially in the case of internet based services, we can quickly see the staggering amount of change that can occur over 20 years. While the number of changes due to weekly enhancements (1040) gives us a number that we really can’t appreciate, perhaps taking a look back at a common technology 20 years ago will put things in perspective. The early 1990s saw the emergence of 2G networks and the cell phone pictured here. So it would have been hard to imagine the multifunctional smart phones many of us use today.
Now let’s think about a traditional large government project. Large government projects take time, often spanning multiple years. Often the time between original concept to final delivery can span several technology generations leaving even the seasoned project manager with a change control nightmare just to keep pace with changes in technology and, perhaps even more challenging, changes in their customer’s expectations.
Given this apparent discordance between policy and technology, what is a senior leader to do? My feeling is that the key is to deliver measureable and meaningful outcomes in shorter timeframes. In place of multi-year, multi-million dollar “Projects”, deliver multiple low cost projects within a given year. Instead of one million-dollar project, reconsider the project as a “Program” with one thousand, thousand-dollar projects. These small projects promote agility in face of technological change while building towards the broader program goals. The program can make rapid adjustments to ensure ultimate success should any one small project fail. There are a handful of other key principles that support this nimble approach to IT services delivery that I’ll explore later through this blog. But until then, with my apologies to the Blue Oyster Cult, “come on Deputy, don’t fear the tech gear”