Link: Without a formal mandate

“In almost every case there are stakeholders who are moved by quantitative data (say the percentage of phone calls that could be avoided.) There are also other stakeholders who connect with qualitative human stories. The magic really happens when you offer both types of evidence. Telling the stories, and backing them up with data points for the cost or the impact of what is happening to people, this is evidence with impact. When you make it real for everyone, you can more effectively catalyze change.”

Also, a sort of case study of improving design in state government.
Original source: Without a formal mandate

Link: Without a formal mandate

“In almost every case there are stakeholders who are moved by quantitative data (say the percentage of phone calls that could be avoided.) There are also other stakeholders who connect with qualitative human stories. The magic really happens when you offer both types of evidence. Telling the stories, and backing them up with data points for the cost or the impact of what is happening to people, this is evidence with impact. When you make it real for everyone, you can more effectively catalyze change.”

Also, a sort of case study of improving design in state government.
Original source: Without a formal mandate

Link: Do you need a corporate vision in government IT?

“In an organisation like a local authority this is especially tough as they are such disparate entities. Think about it, in what strange universe does it make sense for a single organisation to collect taxes, deliver social care, pick up bins and operate transport? None of these and many of the other services councils deliver have much to do with each other, apart from the coincidence of local delivery… Coming up with a single vision or operating model for such an organisation is pretty tricky therefore, which makes it less likely that transformation teams are going to get one. So, without a clear destination, what should they be doing?… I think the key is to think of councils – and other similar organisations – as groups of individual businesses, rather than a single cohesive organisation.”
Original source: Do you need a corporate vision in government IT?

Link: Australia’s Digital Transformation Stumbles Badly

“Many Australians, especially the poor, now see their government using digital technology as an indiscriminate, uncaring, and illegal club to beat them with. The government’s planned use of facial recognition to determine if a welfare recipient should receive benefits will do nothing to change their minds.”
Original source: Australia’s Digital Transformation Stumbles Badly

Link: Toxic Technology: the growing legacy threat

“The UK Government Digital Service recently wrote about how they understand legacy and suggested a number of factors that contribute to technology being considered legacy: being poorly supported, hard to update, poorly documented, non-compliant or inefficient. The range of breadth of these negative characteristics runs counter to an often passive view of legacy: stable historic technology that is intended to be replaced. Organisations should begin to think of this technology as toxic: actively harmful to the health of the organisation.”
Original source: Toxic Technology: the growing legacy threat

Link: What Your Innovation Process Should Look Like

“Once a list of innovation ideas has been refined by curation, it needs to be prioritized. One of the quickest ways to sort innovation ideas is to use the McKinsey Three Horizons Model. Horizon 1 ideas provide continuous innovation to a company’s existing business model and core capabilities. Horizon 2 ideas extend a company’s existing business model and core capabilities to new customers, markets or targets. Horizon 3 is the creation of new capabilities to take advantage of or respond to disruptive opportunities or disruption. We’d add a new category, Horizon 0, which refers to graveyards ideas that are not viable or feasible.”
Original source: What Your Innovation Process Should Look Like

Link: Understanding legacy technology in government

Defining and dealing with legacy IT, from a UK government perspective:

“Most organisations have an overarching IT strategy in line with their business strategy but some are taking an alternate approach to legacy. A common tactic is to migrate the business away from legacy in small parts, rather than all at once.”
Original source: Understanding legacy technology in government

Link: NASA faces ‘significant’ IT management weaknesses, GAO says

‘GAO seems to concur with the IG’s assessment. “Until NASA addresses these [IT governance] weaknesses, it will face increased risk of investing in duplicative investments or may miss opportunities to ensure investments perform as intended,” the report states.’

Must be tough for the CIO types over there with that report.
Original source: NASA faces ‘significant’ IT management weaknesses, GAO says

Link: Government services must go digital, lawmakers urge in new bill

“The bill text points to an Internal Revenue Service report in which the agency shares that, for the fiscal 2014, live assistance cost between $42 and $53 per inbound correspondence. Digital transactions in the same time period, in contrast, cost the IRS just $0.22.”
Original source: Government services must go digital, lawmakers urge in new bill

Link: Government services must go digital, lawmakers urge in new bill

“The bill text points to an Internal Revenue Service report in which the agency shares that, for the fiscal 2014, live assistance cost between $42 and $53 per inbound correspondence. Digital transactions in the same time period, in contrast, cost the IRS just $0.22.”
Original source: Government services must go digital, lawmakers urge in new bill

Link: Making public policy in the digital age – digital HKS

When you can put our releases weekly, how do you channel the feedback to government policy and laws? We’re used to policy being static, and slow. But with a small batch approach, you could experiment and change policy, just like you can the software.

It’ll likely be a long, long time before that happens, but it’d be a lot cooler if it did.
Original source: Making public policy in the digital age – digital HKS

Link: ‘Blockchain’ is meaningless, government edition

A laundry list of other content about blockchain in government.

‘Lemieux is also well-acquainted with misconceptions about the capabilities of blockchains. “The concept of trustworthiness — at least from an archival science perspective — goes far beyond what the blockchain can do, or even promises to do, in most cases,” she said. This idea implies that records are accurate, “which is not something typically in scope of a good number of blockchain solutions” and exaggerates their reliability, which is an “issue if you have poorly written smart contracts or novel and untested consensus algorithms.” It also exaggerates claims of authenticity, which relies on the robustness of whatever identity system is paired with the blockchain. “Finally, immutability implies permanence, and there’s no guarantee that ledger records created and kept on chain will last, even with lots of copies around, because of technological obsolescence and the fact that incentives to keep the system going may die off after a time,” she said.’
Original source: ‘Blockchain’ is meaningless, government edition

Link: U.S. CIO Suzette Kent: Don’t change IT modernization plan; ‘turbo boost’ it

When it comes to digital transformation, the goal of businesses is to drive profit, or more broadly, get more money. Finding government’s goal is a tad more tricky. Here’s a good, brief explanation:

‘The end goal of all this, Kent reminded the crowd, is to improve agencies’ ability to achieve their various missions, deliver “excellent” customer service and “be great stewards of taxpayer money.”’

Most people forget that last part: ensuring that the money is well spent.
Original source: U.S. CIO Suzette Kent: Don’t change IT modernization plan; ‘turbo boost’ it

Link: The path to self-sovereign digital identity starts with blockchain

“We don’t think that blockchain is the universal solution to the identity problem; however, it certainly provides a missing link by allowing people and organizations to prove things about themselves online, as they do offline, using decentralized and verifiable identifiers. Identity-related information can be looked up (verified) without involving a central directory or paper-based document. Additionally, the identity owner does not need to overshare, and the recipient does not have to store unnecessary sensitive data.”
Original source: The path to self-sovereign digital identity starts with blockchain

Fixing government procurement one process at a time

Part of the problem, according to the General Services Administration’s Bill Zielinski, is that many agencies still try to scope out modernization projects with highly specific technical requirements. “We define not only the business outcome that we’re trying to achieve,” Zielinski said at the FCW-hosted IT modernization event, “but we have that tendency to say, ‘and this is explicitly how you’re going to do that.'”
Such specific solicitations tend to produce near-identical proposals from industry, he noted, which forces agencies to select based on “lowest price technically acceptable” criteria. Worse, he said, that prescriptive approach denies agencies the opportunity to benefit from new and creative solutions that might surface if they simply described the business capability that’s needed.

Source: Can agencies seize the moment for modernization?

US Army is dead-set to be more agile in IT

“One of the problems that we’ve got — it’s not the problem but it’s a problem — you develop a piece of technology, we don’t have the resourcing flexibility to buy it.”

That means the Army is forced to buy a technology available today it thinks it will need in 2025, when what it truly needs hasn’t been developed yet.

“[Say] you came up with something new that I really need on the battlefield based on a threat, I have no ability to integrate that into my platform. So whether it’s buy, try, decide or adapt and buy, this allows us to test technology, put it in a demonstrative, experimental environment .… Maybe I want to give it to this unit that’s going to this particular place and get feedback, and then I iterate the whole Army.”

Source: Army hopes to get past ‘treating symptoms’ with streamlined adapt-and-buy approach

Figuring out fixing federal government IT – Notebook

In the US, we love arm-chair strategizing government IT, in particular federal IT. Getting your arms around “the problem” is near impossible.

What do we think is wrong, exactly?

As citizens, our perceptions seem to be that government IT has poor user experience, none at all (there’s no app to do things, you have to go to an office to fill something out, etc.), and that it costs too much. More wonky takes are that there’s not enough data provided, nor insights generated by that data to drive better decision making.

When I’ve spoken with government IT people, their internal needs revolve around increasing (secure) communication, using more modern “white-collar” tools (from simply upgrading their copies of Office, to moving to G Suite/Office 365 suites, or just file sharing), and addressing the citizen perceptions (bringing down costs, making sure the software, whether custom made or “off the shelf,” have better customer experiences.

Is it so hard, really?

It’s also easy to think that government is a special snow-flake, but, really, they have mostly the same problems as any large organization. As highlighted below, the government contracting, procurement, and governance processes are more onerous in government IT, and the profile of “legacy” systems is perhaps higher, but, worse, more of a pull down into the muck.

From my conversations, one of the main barriers to change is systemic inertia, seemingly driven by avoidance of risk and overall lack of motivation to do anything. This lack of motivation is likely driven by the lack of competition: unlike in the private sector, there’s no other government to go to, so there’s no fear of loosing “business,” so what care to change or make things better?

Anyhow, here’s a notebook of federal government IT.

“Legacy”

  • “92 percent of Federal IT managers say it’s urgent for their agency to modernize legacy applications, citing the largest driving factors as security issues (42 percent), time required to manage and/or maintain systems (36 percent), and inflexibility and integration issues (31 percent)” from an Accenture sponsored 2015 survey of “150 Federal IT managers familiar with their agency’s applications portfolio”
  • Theres a large pool of legacy IT, though not as large as you might think: ~60% of portfolio are from before 2010(https://www.gartner.com/document/3604417).
  • That said, the same report says that ~25% of portfolios are pre-1999, with 5% from the 1980’s.
  • On spending: “The government has been reporting that 75 to 80 percent of the federal IT budget is spent on running legacy (or existing) systems.”
  • But, actually, that’s pretty normal: “That may sound alarming to those who aren’t familiar with the inner-workings of a large IT organization. However, the percentage is in-line with the industry average. Gartner says the average distribution of IT spending between run, grow and transform activities — across all industries — is 70 percent, 19 percent and 11 percent respectively. Those numbers have been consistent over the past decade.”
  • However, the spending items above are from Compuware’s CEO, who’s clearly interested in continuing legacy spending, mostly on mainframes.

Priorities

Source: “2017 CIO Agenda: A Government Perspective,” Rick Howard, Gartner, Feb. 2017.

Other notes:

  • In the same survey, data & analytics skills are the leading talent gap, with security coming in second. Everything else is in the single digits.
  • Why care about data? On simply providing it (and you, know, the harder job of producing it), the UN e-Government survey says “Making data available online for free also allows the public – and various civil society organizations –to reuse and remix them for any purpose. This can potentially lead to innovation and new or improved services, new understanding and ideas. It can also raise awareness of governments’ actions to realize all the SDGs, thus allowing people to keep track and contribute to those efforts.”
  • And, on analytics: “Combining transparency of information with Big Data analytics has a growing potential. It can help track service delivery and lead to gains in efficiency. It can also provide governments with the necessary tools to focus on prevention rather than reaction, notably in the area of disaster risk management.”
  • Reducing compliance and overall “bureaucracy” is always a problem. My benchmark case is an 18F project that reduced the paperwork time (ATO) down from 9-14 months to 3 days.

The workloads – what’s the IT do?

  • And, while it’s for the Australian government, check out a good profile of the kinds of basic services, and, therefore, applications that agencies need, e.g.: booking citizenship process appointments, getting permits to open businesses, and facilitating the procurement process.
  • If you think about many of the business services governments do, it’s workflow process: someone submits a request, multiple people have to check and co-relate the data submitted, and then someone has to approve the request. This is a core, ubiquitous thing handled by enterprise software and, in theory, shouldn’t be that big of a deal. But, you know, it usually is. SaaS offerings are a great fit for this, you’d hope.

The problems: the usual old process, expensive COTs, contractors, compliance

  • If you accept that much of government IT is simple workflow management, much of the improving the quality and costs of government IT would likely come from shifting off custom, older IT to highly commoditized, cheap (and usually faster evolving, and more secure), SaaS-based services.
  • Jennifer Pahlka: “When you consider that much of what ails government today is the use of custom development at high cost when a commodity product is readily and cheaply available, we must acknowledge that agile is one useful doctrine, not the doctrine. “
  • So, if you do the old “IT – SaaS = what?” you suck out a lot of resources (money, attention, etc.) by moving from janky, expensive COTs systems (and all the infrastructure and operations support needed to run them). You can both cut these costs (fire people, shut down systems), and then reallocate resources (people, time, and money) to better customizing software. Then, this gets you back to “agile,” which I always read as “software development.”
  • In my experience, government IT has the same opportunities as most companies, taking on a more “agile” approach to IT. This means doing smaller, faster to release batches, with smaller, more focused, “all in teams.” Again, the same thing as most large organizations.
  • An older survey (sponsored by Red Hat): “Just 13% of respondents in a recent MeriTalk/Accenture survey of 152 US Federal IT managers believed they could ‘develop and deploy new systems as fast as the mission requires.’”
  • Mikey Dickerson, 2014: “We’ll break that up by discouraging government contracts that are multibillion-dollar and take years to deliver. HealthCare.gov would have been difficult to roll out piecemeal, but if you, a contractor, have to deliver some smaller thing in four to six weeks while the system is being constructed, you’ll act differently.”
  • Government contractors and procurement are a larger problem in government IT, though. The structure of how business is done with third parties, and the related procurement and compliance red-tape causes problems, and, as put by Andrew McMahon, it creates “a procurement process that has become more important than the outcome.”
  • While there’s “too much” red-tape, in general we want a huge amount of transparency and oversight into government work. In the US, we don’t really trust the government to work efficiently. This become frustrating ironic and circular, then, if your position is that all of that oversight and compliance is a huge part of the inefficiency.
  • As put by one government CIO: “Government agencies, therefore, place a business value on ‘optics’—how something appears to the observant public. In an oversight environment that is quick to assign blame, government is highly risk averse (i.e., it places high business value on things that mitigate risk)…. the compliance requirements are not an obstacle, but rather an expression of a deeper business need that the team must still address.”

Success story

  • Tom Cochran: “While running technology for Obama’s WhiteHouse.gov, open-source solutions enabled our team to deliver projects on budget and up to 75% faster than alternative proprietary-software options. More than anything, open-source technology allows governments to utilize a large ecosystem of developers, which enhances innovation and collaboration while driving down the cost to taxpayers.”
  • As with “agile,” it’s important to not put all your eggs-of-hope in one basket on the topic of open source. My theory is that for many large organizations, simply doing something new and different, upgrading – open or not – will improve your IT situation:
  • While open source has different cost dynamic, I’d suggest that simply switching to new software to get the latest features and mindset that the software imbues gives you a boost. Open source, when picked well, will come with that community and an ongoing focus on updates: older software that has long been abandoned by the community and vendors will stall out and become stale, open or not.
  • One example of success, from Pivotal-land, is the IRS’s modernization of reporting on diligent taxes. It moved from a costly, low customer service quality telephone based system to an online approach. As I overuse in most of my talks, they applied a leaner, more “agile” approach to designing the software and now “taxpayers have initiated over 400,000 sessions and made over $100M in payments after viewing their balance.”

If you’re really into this kind of thing, you should come to our free Pivotal workshop day in D.C., on June 7th. Mark Heckler and I will be going over how to apply “cloud-native” thinking, practices, and technologies to the custom written software portion of all this. Also, I’ll be speaking at a MeetUp later that day on the overall hopes and dreams of cloud-native, DevOps, and all that “agile” stuff.

The fight for money between states and cities

The miniature culture wars fought between cities and states—such as North Carolina’s tussle with Charlotte over its anti-discrimination rules—are well known. The financial tensions between them are quieter but as important. “Money is usually the main problem,” says Larry Jones of the United States Conference of Mayors, and especially divisive in lean times.

Link