not just by technology managers. While IT planning should be distinct from budget preparation in most settings, it must maintain budgetary legitimacy at least to the extent that proposals rejected in the IT strategic plan do not receive funding in the regular budget.
To integrate IT capabilities and priorities appropriately into the organization's culture, you need ongoing oversight that, like the strategic planning process, is controlled by IT-knowledgeable general managers rather than by technologists. In most settings, you will need a steering committee primarily of government insiders to meet about every three months to keep IT activities on track. In addition, you will want an advisory board of outsiders to keep you connected to the vendor community, academia, other levels of government and so forth.
FOR THE DEPARTMENT HEADS ...
While most IT initiatives start with the budget process and the IT planning process, they ultimately succeed or fail as implementation projects. And for IT implementation projects -- the trench warfare of IT progress -- success depends more on department heads and line managers than on budget directors or CIOs.
If you're a department head or line manager whose unit depends on IT -- whose doesn't? -- the short list of essentials for IT implementation includes:
* Get line management (and probably yourself) deeply involved at the project level; many projects will need a general manager rather than a technology manager as the authority in charge of daily project activities.
* Make a business case for funding based on business outputs (not just technology outputs), with justification that includes benchmarking against outside organizations (where possible) and an open assessment of the confusion and conflict that must be resolved (always).
* Seek nontraditional funding -- capital funding, revolving funds, user charges, performance contracts -- if needed and justifiable.
* Provide solid education for all project participants, including overseers.
Real progress in helping government improve how it finds and funds IT will require engaging overseers, the press and the public in what has been referred to as "the conversation" of the political process. We need to support government in a disciplined way as it tries to understand and keep up with new information technologies. We don't want to spend blindly, be soft or cave in to narrow interests -- of vendors or others. But we do need to find better ways to authorize government to experiment, to change and to "fail forward." To do this, we will need to pay more attention -- both as citizens and as leaders -- to holding government accountable for an energetic learning portfolio. This will present a significant challenge, of course, given the ambiguities and conflicts involved with learning and change. But we have begun over the past decade to improve how we learn about and respond to IT issues and opportunities, and we must continue.
In a world characterized by much better access to information and increasing interdependency, how governments handle information technology will be important, even critical. We know from our past failures that future progress will be fitful and risky. But we also know it will be essential to push ahead and to do so with as much thoughtfulness and discipline as possible.
Finding and funding good IT in government has become a necessity, not a luxury -- so now is the time to act. The Strategic Computing Program at Harvard has long been interested in the ways that agencies face the challenges presented by the IT budgeting problem. As you begin crafting your own strategy, keep us posted on your progress.
Jerry Mechling is director of Strategic Computing and Telecommunications in the Public Sector at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Victoria Sweeney is a research affiliate with the same program. *
This is the final in a series of four articles drawn from the forthcoming Government Technology publication, "Finding and Funding IT Initiatives in the Public Sector: A Guidebook." The book is designed to pull together the information and advice that a task force charged with solving IT funding problems needs to organize its work.
April Table of Contents