For tech's sake! Another government tech plan?

The best technology plan ever? Pouring a bucket of tech on dysfunctional managers and business processes doesn't solve business problems.

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“Just dig a hole in the ground and throw money in it” was a piece of advice my wife recently received on buying a swimming pool. I was reminded of that when I read something on LinkedIn last week about “the best county technology plan ever.” The plan is public, so I decided to investigate and read it for myself.

I am immediately skeptical when I see a document called a Technology Plan. The public sector isn’t suffering from a lack of technology; its root problems are a lack of governance, management accountability and measurable business goals. Technology has become a proxy for bad managers. “If we only had more money and more tech, we could do a decent job.”

Tech will never fix poor management and “investing” public sector money in technology without crystal clear business objectives gets you a very expensive swimming pool full of algae and murky water.

What I found in the plan was largely what I expected – a lot of mumbo jumbo about technology, innovation, big data, IoT and investment without any specific, measurable objectives. In fact, investment was used 27 times in the document but two terms never mentioned are ROI (return on investment) and TCO (total cost of ownership). Shouldn’t this threesome always travel together?

Technology doesn’t matter

Tech doesn’t matter. Leadership and management do. While the plan contains sprinkles of COBIT5-flavored language, the narrative and goals miss the mark completely. Let’s take a look at some examples.

“Technology can be used to improve the productivity of the county workforce.” Wrong. It’s the job of management to improve productivity, not technology and definitely not the IT staff. The same goes for “Leverage IT to create a dynamic, learning workforce.” A CIO who accepts accountability and responsibility for productivity and continuing education of the staff will surely be hung out to dry when the plan fails to meet those objectives. CIOs should be pushing responsibility for these programs right back on governing bodies and executives. Make them do their jobs!

The plan does inform the reader that the organization uses “an independent 360-degree customer satisfaction survey” to measure performance, but to me, these types of evaluations are a sure sign that managers are shirking their duty to manage.

“Leverage technology to continually strengthen delivery of public services and communications,” What does that even mean and how do you translate it into reality? How will you measure it? How do you ensure that “IT initiatives” don’t become expensive solutions to nonexistent problems? Pouring a bucket of tech on top of dysfunctional managers and business processes doesn’t solve business problems.

There was some good in the plan. The organization is finally getting dressed for the HIPAA party, albeit 14 years late and they are attending the PCI-DSS party as well, but the plan only mentions privacy twice. Lack of HIPAA compliance in county government is an enormous problem and the concepts of privacy and security are alien to many municipal employees.

Risk management and resilience are mentioned as well, but there is too much talk about technology and too little about business and the plan reeks of tech envy. Between the lines, the implication is that "The private sector has web apps -- we should be like the private sector." There is no recognition that the private sector demands ROI, accountability and demonstrable results.

I have been fortunate to work with many groups of county and municipal officials who had amazing business acumen, but those people would never have accepted such a meaningless plan and the governing body that adopted and approved this plan was clearly asleep at the wheel.

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