by Byron Connolly

Budgeting biggest barrier to digitising government

Nov 02, 2015
CareersGovernmentIT Leadership

The budgeting process is the biggest barrier to digital transformation in government and many agencies fear that if they use shared services or move to integrated environments, they’ll lose control.

This is the view of Mark Forman who was the US Government’s first CIO between 2001 and 2003 during the ‘e-government era’ where he managed more than $58 billion in federal IT assets. For the past four months, he has been global head of Unisys’ public sector practice.

“The biggest barrier I’ve seen is the budgeting process. The legislative appropriations process gives money to programs and it hasn’t to fund the programs to be self-sufficient. This doesn’t mean that [each program] needs to have its own versions of enterprise services,” he said.

“So corollary to that constraint on the budgeting process that gives them [CIOs] all the authority, is the CIO organisations of these new digital agencies have to prove that they are trustworthy partners in the service delivery process.”

Forman cited a situation in the United States where the CIO of the Department of Homeland Security – who was also vice chair of the Federal CIO Council – tried to force several agencies to move services into two private data centres.

“Fortunately, they did a very bad job on the contracts so there were no SLAs originally in that contract,” he said.

“If CIOs are really going to do that integration through some of the legislative powers they have, there has to be some marriage of the budgeting process that creates an incentive structure that takes advantage of shared services and integration and some of the other benefits.”

Forman also highlighted that most government agencies worldwide don’t have enough procurement people to handle transformation workloads or people who understand how to draw up service level agreements to purchase IT as-a-service. This is also impeding the uptake of digital services, he said.

“They don’t understand that DevOps and Agile approaches are so different to Waterfall. So there’s a big knowledge gap on the procurement side which I think is part of the constraint on a CIO’s ability to [roll out digital services],” he said.

Governments also initiative very ‘parochial’ transformation incentives and until there is a clear value proposition or new leaders are elected, there’s no real change, he said.

The time window from the creation of a digital initiative to ‘benefits realisation’ is still two years, said Forman. Government CIOs need to figure out how to orchestrate processes and gain access to procurement people – either internally or from another agency.

“You have to go through a budgeting sequence and along the way, the leader has to align the different parochial players to the vision. It’s hard for a CIO to get stakeholders to adopt the vision.

“The person that has the political leadership has to own the vision and bring the parochial interest into that vision. The CIO has to be the arm that orchestrates that with technology and visualisation and things like that.

“That takes a while but if you don’t show results in two years – people start to doubt if the CIO can accomplish [what’s required] and [during that time], political or elected officials will move to another job. It’s generally showing up to be a two year process in government,” Forman said.

Forman also believes that not enough CIOs are effectively articulating and documenting the gaps that occur in systems that are being used in field offices of their agencies and by citizens.

“You embed controls and decision rules in your system …and it’s easy but you go into the field and [staff] say they can’t use the tools because the business rules don’t reflect the way they work,” he said.

“Not enough CIOs get out to the people in the field and understand [what the user needs]. It’s a basic concept user-centred design but user-centred design has to start with understanding where the gaps are.”

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