Aug 07 2017

What to Do When Funding Is Tight at Your Agency

Embracing new technologies and thinking differently can help feds save money.

When you run out of money, it’s time to start thinking.

That old joke inevitably gets a laugh when federal leaders use it during industry panels. But IT professionals long ago figured out that it’s time to start thinking. IT spending at agencies has increased on average less than 2 percent a year since 2009. Next year looks no different.

This means agencies can’t afford the old way of solving IT problems anymore.

There’s already proof the conventional wisdom is starting to change. The current issue of FedTech is chock-full of feds thinking about common IT problems differently. That includes everything from developing machine learning and incorporating virtual reality to future-proofing data centers. Notably, the Small Business Administration is trying to buy as little hardware as possible.

But without a willingness among leaders to look at solving problems in new ways, these reforms are no more than outliers.

In the 2016 federal CIO survey from accounting firm Grant Thornton and the Professional Services Council, agency leaders consistently pointed to culture as a major area for improvement. In providing advice for the White House administration, the report emphasized “the need for speed, flexibility, and agility within the workforce and culture of agencies.”

Introduce a Culture of Innovation

Culture costs almost nothing to change.

In the past, government leaders tasked the General Services Administration’s digital services agency, 18F, with introducing new ways of solving familiar problems. The Pentagon has emphasized reforms by standing up its own digital services agencies. This has led to solutions that IT shops traditionally avoided and an exploration of what’s possible.

But not all change requires new agencies. Industry continues to move at unprecedented speed when it comes to developing new capabilities and innovations. Perhaps the best way for IT leaders to benefit is to focus on what abilities they want their users to have, without a specific solution in mind, and then give industry the opportunity to meet those needs in new and creative ways.

A change in culture can be hard to notice, but such deliberate actions would leave no question about where agencies are headed.