May 12 2009

Finding the Path Toward Change

Five pointers will help pave the way for success on federal initiatives spawned by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

If experience teaches us anything, it certainly is that wishing doesn’t make it so.

An undertaking as large as the stimulus-led economic recovery requires careful strategy, project structure and execution. Although a detailed business case and plan must be prepared, here are a few stepping stones that can help the government set a course for success:

Step 1: Scope — The chief decision here is whether this program includes the Defense Department or not. Because DOD has fairly mature strategies, I would assume the scope would be narrowed to the civilian agencies, which would involve approximately 1.3 million current employees.

Step 2: Architecture — To accrue the envisioned security, environmental and cost benefits, the architecture needs to be based on thin-client technology — no hard drives, fans or the like in the clients — and to feature a limited number of data centers. Agencies, served by the “cloud,” would no longer need agency-specific data centers.

Step 3: Strong Governance — Leaders of the administration and the Office of Management and Budget need to direct the effort. Although there are certainly government job functions that may require local data storage and special treatment, such exceptions must be tightly controlled. The answer to most requests for exceptions when the reason is simply “My agency is different” needs to be “No.”

Step 4: Industry Support — The components, much of the implementation support and at least part of the operational support would need to come from industry. Industry’s initial concern will be to ensure that the program provides the desired stimulus. It will need to respond in ways that ensure that the benefits are spread across the country, and that the lion’s share of the benefit takes place on American soil.

Step 5: Political Considerations — Certainly the stimulus issue is mainly political, but there are other considerations. For instance, can we achieve the right balance between the use of industry and federal personnel? The program could be built and implemented in the near term by industry, with contract options to “in-source” to the government what makes sense during the operational phase.