“If we’re not able to take risks and fail, then we’re not able to innovate,” says Lena Trudeau of the National Academy of Public Administration. “Government is not able to do this, and so innovation is difficult.”
But it’s not impossible, says the program area director for strategic initiatives at NAPA and the leader of its Collaboration Project, which wants to be a forum for agencies to use technology to solve difficult problems.
Innovation demands collaboration, and in government, collaboration can be difficult, Trudeau says. NAPA has identified five barriers: the bureaucratic structure of government, the lack of focus on results, a low tolerance for risk, no enabling environment, and few leaders willing to step out and try new approaches.
But that’s not stopping some agencies. Witness three efforts to revamp IT infrastructure and reshape the way government works:
• Army: Over the next three years, the service plans to collapse worldwide network operations, LandWarNet, into six regional hubs to create a global network and provide users with single sign-on. In the United States alone, the Army has 440 locations that it needs to bring into this construct, says the Army’s CIO, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson. Ultimately, it will save the service $1.5 billion annually through centralized network management that’s more secure and provides more situational awareness than network services do now, he says.
• Defense Information Systems Agency: As it consolidates data centers worldwide, DISA is moving to storage and services on demand. Offering turn-on/turn-off capability for software is a “pretty radical departure,” says CIO John Garing, adding, “If we don’t do this, we’re not going to be relevant; the world has gone past us.”
• Coast Guard: This fall, the commandant, Adm. Thad Allen, tapped Facebook as a primary medium for communicating with far-flung Guard members. When he introduced the plan, Allen posted a YouTube video in which he pointed out that social networking “is a permanent feature of our environment.”
Going, Going ... Gone Mobile
82%: Feds who report working outside their office, from 2 to 12 days a month
54 minutes: Time that feds using smartphones estimate they give back daily in productivity gains
27%: Feds who gave their agencies a failing grade for supporting remote access (A – 16%; B – 23%; C – 19%; D – 15%)
Source: Survey of 446 federal employees across 18 agencies; Telework Exchange, October 2008
Off the Shelf
What: The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicolas Carr
Recommended by: John Garing, Defense Information Systems Agency CIO
Why: Carr’s the guy, Garing points out, who a few years back came to the conclusion that central IT organizations and CIOs were unnecessary. “Now, he’s gone through his own transformation: He no longer sees IT has a useless part of the business enterprise.” In his new book, Carr compares Internet development to power generation evolutionwise.
Takeaway: Eventually, the world will draw Internet right from the wall, like power; that’s the theory that Carr espouses in The Big Switch. “We’re not there yet,” but this thought shapes how DISA needs to view future IT initiatives.