Shawn McCarthy | A government IT manifesto
Internaut | Commentary: I've collected some important operational rules, which I offer as a Government Information Technology Manifesto
Shawn P. McCarthy
As a neutral observer of government operations for several
years, I’ve collected some important operational rules, which
I offer as a Government Information Technology Manifesto.
Government IT managers should:
- Be driven by each agency’s chief information officer, who
has the technical expertise to solve information system problems.
The agency’s upper management needs to trust that expertise
and set aside political and technology prejudices.
- Reflect business priorities set by upper management. Exciting
new projects or technologies always wait in the wings, but managers
must encourage IT staff members to stay focused on immediate
- Deliver on agency business requirements and mandated reporting
requirements. This shouldn’t be sublimated to short-term
needs or projects unless national security is at stake.
- Force upper managers to set project priority, funding and
staffing. Letting such decisions fall to IT employees alone sets
them up for inappropriate blame.
- Watch carefully for project scope creep. Significant scope
changes should be approved and funded by the agency’s upper
management and CIO. All participants should agree to the new
deliverables, timeline and budget. This forces everyone to decide
what is important.
- Reward managers who possess basic IT skills. Too many managers
supervising IT deliverables don’t have solid IT knowledge
— a potentially costly disconnect.
- Encourage upper managers and IT leaders to spend time on agency
front lines to understand what workers need to meet the needs of
citizens. Don’t get sidetracked by what workers might want,
which may not be core to the agency’s mission.
- Respect and make use of staff and citizen diversity.
Interacting with a wide variety of cultures and social choices can
make work challenging, but it also can offer a wider set of
experiences and views on business or social problems.
- Avoid lone advocates and avoid being one. If you’re the
sole supporter of a specific project or technology, it’s not
going to fly even if you see it as the best answer. Abandon the
idea if you can’t build a support base. Avoid wasting time
- Avoid griping. No solution is perfect. Yes, some other
technology might have been better, but the only solution is a team
that works together.
- Approve IT projects only if they have the potential to
significantly reduce IT or other business expenses, improve citizen
services, improve data sharing internally and across multiple
agencies, or replace systems that have become too difficult or
expensive to maintain, operate and update. Age alone is not a
reason to replace a working system.
- Accept the fact that political appointees, highly public
battles and shifting budget priorities are a way of life at
government agencies. Individual systems and government networks
should, therefore, be designed for maximum flexibility, repurposing
and even dual use.
- Have a backup plan for every project and system. Your country
or local community is relying on you to prepare for the unexpected
and keep the business of government running.
- Know the cost and benefits of each individual and your full
organization. Understand that a core government task is to
constantly improve the ratio between costs and benefits.
Your credibility rests in not only doing your job but also
recognizing when your organization might benefit from doing things
Shawn P. McCarthy is a senior analyst and program manager at
IDC Government Insights. Contact him at email@example.com.
Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.