As Congress comes back next week, the Defense Department expects to make a huge push to end sequestration — or at least blunt its effects. Part of the case the Pentagon will make is that its “cost culture” strategy is making a difference in how it’s spending the money it does have.
Dave Wennergren is senior vice president for Technology at the Professional Services Council, and former assistant deputy Chief Management Officer at the Defense Department. He shared his Top 3 for 2015 on In Depth with Francis Rose. He said that cost culture will spread from the Pentagon to all across government.
Caring about costs and change: The effective use of consumption- based buying allows rapid results and real return on investment. There are two compelling forces at work in today’s government technology market. First, the convergence of hardware, software and services into solutions that are bought on an “as needed basis” — think cloud computing as an example, — which resonates with technology managers no longer interested in owning depreciating equipment and having to integrate technology and services. At the same time, continuing fiscal uncertainty will be with us for the foreseeable future, and government agencies, particularly CFOs and CIOs, have a laser-like focus on ensuring that technology investments have a positive return on investment.
Much has been said about the misuse of approaches like lowest price technically acceptable, which when applied to the wrong initiative, grind away at the access to the best minds and approaches in a misguided attempt to minimize price rather than maximize value. Lord Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, once famously said, “We didn’t have money, so we had to think.”
This year will hopefully be the year when more government buyers recognize the flexibilities that already exist in the Federal Acquisition Regulation to pursue managed services, best value and performance-based contracting. Buying capabilities-as-a-service, with cloud computing as just a starting point, minimizes the government’s up-front investment, allows for variability in funds spent each year and allows industry to refresh solutions with new ideas and approaches to maximize mission effectiveness. The use of managed services extends well beyond IT infrastructure, providing opportunities for improvements in a broad range of government support services.
Nurturing the new and delivering innovation through partnerships between the best minds in industry and government: In our personal lives, we witness the promise, power and innovation of new technologies, applications and approaches. Likewise in government, there are pockets of innovation and new approaches that are delivering great value. Yet, too often, these innovative approaches are limited to small, peripheral tasks and when we turn our attention to major projects for an agency, we still too often see complex and outdated approaches that take too long, cost too much and don’t allow the rapid insertion of innovative ideas. In our frustration, we say that current service providers can’t bring innovation to their government offerings, when in reality it’s the limitations we place on a company’s offering by virtue of rigid statements of work and other barriers that hinder a company’s ability to offer new technologies and ideas over the course of a contract. Indeed, it’s much less about “who” is providing the solution (a new start-up or a longtime government contractor), and much more about the “why,” “what” and “how” for the solution being sought. Just as there are thousands of dedicated government professionals hoping for the best outcome for their agency’s mission, there are thousands of private sector firms also eager to help bring speed, agility and innovation to government technology solutions. Our challenge will be to “nurture the new” through better contracting practices, like replacing statements of work with statements of objectives, while simultaneously fostering a culture that encourages trying new approaches through pilots and experimentations. We must incentivize government buyers to engage with industry partners in the sharing of new ideas and solutions. It is a bold new world out there!
Wipe the slate clean: The time has come for substantive reform of government IT legislation and a national call to action for cybersecurity. It’s time to do spring cleaning on 20 years of IT legislation and start fresh with guidance that enables the insertion of new technologies and solutions.
Much important legislation has been written over the last two decades, starting with the passage of the landmark Clinger-Cohen Act. But, as is often the case, new provisions are layered upon prior statutes in a way that can drain speed and agility with too much of a focus on reporting requirements and oversight actions rather than on approaches that break down barriers and encourage new thinking. Examples include the improvements that continuous monitoring provides over periodic labor-intensive certification and accreditation packages and the advent of open approaches like service oriented architecture, Web 2.0 and agile software development.
It’s a different world. Will this be the year when we see substantive legislative change that enables better and faster mission delivery rather than just incremental change and additional oversight? Will we demand the use of new approaches, incentives and the alignment of government IT delivery to the best practices widely used in the commercial sector? Will we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the writing of Clinger-Cohen with bold new legislation that reflects the reality of technology deployment and use in the 21st century? Stay tuned for the next chapter in IT legislative reform. Much is at stake, and great opportunities abound.
In addition to the need to re-think legislation for government use of information technology, there is an even more compelling need for comprehensive cybersecurity legislation for our nation. It is encouraging that both the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee have both announced expanded cyber agendas. One look no further than the recent headlines about Sony to be reminded that there is a need for a national call to action on cybersecurity to protect our citizens, our intellectual property and our national interests.
In our special radio report, Top 3 for 2015, federal experts tell In Depth host Francis Rose what top three concepts, trends or priorities they believe will be important in 2015.