New course would teach feds to manage latest IT

Management of new information technology: It's always been a challenge in the federal government. Now a new course at the University of Maryland's business scho...

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Management of new information technology: It’s always been a challenge in the federal government. Now a new course at the University of Maryland’s business school aims to fix that. Many federal career mangers have voiced a need for such a course. Professor and Assistant Dean Joe Bailey joins the Federal Drive with Tom Temin with more.

Joe Bailey: Thanks for having me, Tom.

Tom Temin: Tell us what this course is all about. Because you know, IM and management courses go back some years sounds like you’ve crafted something for the 21st century here?

Joe Bailey: Well, we certainly are trying. And it’s been so exciting to go ahead and bring in our first group of students for this full certificate program. And we’ve designed it at the Smith School of Business specifically for those professionals who are either getting their MBA, and then want to do a certificate as kind of a stackable credential with that MBA, because they see the opportunity that exists within the federal government space to be managing technology, as well as those who are coming directly in for just a certificate. So within one year, they can go ahead and take the whole sequence of courses, and get really a deep dive into what it means to manage technology.

Tom Temin: And what sorts of people are enrolling? CIO-channel type of people, or maybe some others?

Joe Bailey: It’s a great question, because we’ve actually found a lot of residents, I would say, with chief innovation officers, as opposed to Chief Information Officers. We find that innovation is one of those things that the federal government really wants to go ahead and get a handle on. And they’re looking to places like Silicon Valley and trying to learn from what they’re doing. But what Silicon Valley does so well, with design thinking and trying to focus on the customer, isn’t always immediately adaptable to the federal space. There’s so much that needs to be done to think about de-risking and investing in research and development. So for example, Tom, I’m teaching the first class right now in research and development. We’ve got 32 amazing students, and every one of them is coming with their own background and expertise from companies like Cisco and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and looking at Red Hat as well as people who are active military — we’ve got people working for the Navy and the Space Force — and people who are working in government positions. So we have a student, Kayla, who works for [the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority], and we were talking about SPACs, these special purpose acquisition companies, and her job is to actually examine some of the applications that come in for SPACs. And you know, I’d asked her, ‘Kayla, tell me how many of these are technology companies?’ She goes, ‘so many of them.’ So she’s exactly the kind of person who can not only join our cohort and learn a lot about the other parts of technology management, but she is actually adding value to the courses.

Tom Temin: Sounds like people that want to know how to apply technology, but also how to evaluate technology and the companies because that relates very strongly to the acquisition side of government.

Joe Bailey: Absolutely. So what we recognized pretty early on in designing this program, and it’s been several years in the works as we’ve lined up key partners, like the federal labs, who are looking to our students to go ahead and help them understand how to go ahead and scale up some of their technology investment. So the types of prompts and cases and deep dives that we do are very much in the space that are bringing together all the different stakeholders. And what we recognize is technology is not something that let’s say an MBA student needs to either decide to buy or not buy, they actually need to participate in the process of the technology development: its design, its implementation. Sometimes the details are in the execution. I was very fortunate to work several years ago for the U.S. Patent Office. And it was just wonderful to see how these incredibly talented and dedicated civil servants are taking the technology and putting it in place. But they’re not being able to take it off the shelf, they need to go ahead and participate in that design process and craft it for the mission of that organization.

Tom Temin: And how deep do you get into the technology? I mean, do people need to know what an application programming interface is? Do they need to know deeper than that about how code works?

Joe Bailey: Actually, I’m glad you brought up APIs, application programming interfaces, because when I teach a course on managing information technology, we’d spent a lot of time about platforms and APIs. We definitely are not looking to pick any technology winners or losers; what we’re doing is we’re exposing people to understand the process of managing technology, sometimes then how it needs to be done in different contexts. And sometimes why it can be a process that used almost independent of technology, so hyper focused on customers and use cases, very much an agile development, looking at the speed of technology, evolution, development. So for example, in class just the other day, we were looking at commercialization of space. I don’t really know much about space travel. We’re very fortunate at the University of Maryland that our president is a rocket scientist. He spent many years at DARPA, President Darrell Pines. And so understanding his infusion of some of the grand challenges the university is facing, and his own expertise has kind of given us a kind of impetus to go ahead and focus on these things that, again, I don’t have to be the expert in. I could focus on the process and allow the students like Jared from the Space Force is able to go ahead and give his person fact of, and it’s really a great learning community.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Joe Bailey. He’s an assistant dean for specialty programs and a professor at the University of Maryland at Smith Business School. And what gave you a clue that there was a demand for this type of course coming from the federal government?

Joe Bailey: Well, certainly I didn’t do it by myself, we’ve got so many great people at the Smith School and at the University of Maryland who are identifying and participating in this. It started with a colleague of mine, Frank Goertner, who’s an alumnus of the Smith School. And as he left his active duty in the Navy, recognized that we needed to be doing more in this federal space to help bridge gaps that exist between the people who are working in different agencies within the federal government, as well as commercial entities. I think the announcement about Amazon Headquarters Two being in Crystal City and trying to kind of understand the role that it plays in helping build out that next generation of federal service. And then we had Steve Case come to campus not too long ago, and talk about the importance of D.C.-based innovation and the next wave, what’s going to be the next Silicon Valley. And he firmly believes that we’re so well positioned here in the DMV area. So it wasn’t just one thing, it was so many different things. And then it just became a question of execution. And so we’re very fortunate that we’ve got a lot of our faculty who have great technical backgrounds. So we’ve got Sarah Kroncke, who’s in finance, we’ve got Brent Goldfarb, who’s in management, Judy Frels in marketing, and Neal Gupta. It’s a wish list of experts who can go ahead and not only teach students how to do this, but building on all of their expertise in managing technology.

Tom Temin: Do you think it would be fruitful for program managers, people that own the missions and the service deliveries of government, as opposed to the technical people, or the technically-related people, such that they could get a good understanding of what technology can do for their missions?

Joe Bailey: So the line between what is a, let’s say, a product manager and a program manager, or those who are technical and not tech, I think that gets blurred in a program like this. It’s that we recognize that technology isn’t just about the, let’s say, the demonstration of a new rocket launching or an artificial intelligence algorithm. It’s understanding how the design of that is going to actually be put into practice and how, let’s say a program manager, their responsibility is to try to bring some of this technology as quickly as possible. But also understand that some of the general purpose technology that can kind of be abstracted out, could maybe lie in some different context. So one of the things that’s just been so fun to watch, Tom, is we’ve got these students with different parts of the federal government, and just by sitting in the class together and trying to grapple with these issues is they’re recognizing that they can go ahead and help pollinate some ideas from one government agency to another. And I don’t think that happens enough in this town. Like there’re just smart, wonderful people that are working in these kinds of different silos. And if we provide more opportunities for them to share their ideas and help disseminate the cool technology, I mean, I’m just so fortunate to be part of this.

Tom Temin: So in some ways, it’s really a networking opportunity, a peer-to-peer situation.

Joe Bailey: Absolutely, again, we focused a lot on the networking component, and make sure that a lot of the prompts, it’s really not lecture based. The students don’t want to hear me lecture on for more than just 15 minutes at a time, you want to have those shorter sound bites. But as a faculty member, we’re trying to provide the prompts to get them to interact with each other. And then kind of like a coach might sometimes call a timeout and say, What’s going on here, let’s talk about this, let’s do a deep dive in a particular topic that we need to really explore. So Tom, when you mentioned APIs — really cool concept, right? Is there a corollary of an API from an IT system, let’s say into a mechanical system? Well, it turns out there are; let’s talk about that. How would you design a platform? How would you build the use cases on top of that? How would you accelerate, potentially, the platform evolution and design based upon the use cases in different areas? It’s so much fun.

Tom Temin: And by the way, where does this all take place?

Joe Bailey: We’re very fortunate at the Smith School to have several facilities. We’re using the Ronald Reagan Building, where we have a dedicated facility for the Smith School of Business. And so we get there every other Saturday. It’s a longer day, we start at 9am, and we finish at 5pm. But we’ve got a lot of interactive stuff. And there’s a food court right down the hall. So we’ve got plenty of opportunity for socialization.

Tom Temin: Joe Bailey is Assistant Dean for specialty programs and a professor at the Smith Business School at the University of Maryland. Thanks so much for joining me.

Joe Bailey: Oh, thanks for having me.


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