Another View | Surviving the economic crisis
Commenatry: Federal IT managers should focus on new and better ways to deliver value
THE CURRENT ECONOMIC CRISIS will have a huge effect on federal information technology. And it's not just the $700 billion bailout/recovery package that will increase the pressure on federal
budgets and spending.
As the nation's economy nosedives into recession, tax revenues will go down, generating larger budget deficits and creating an even greater push to cap or cut spending.
In this new pressure-cooker environment, federal IT managers will be tempted to hunker down by consolidating, optimizing, stretching out programs and delaying new initiatives. Some of these
steps will be necessary, but the real key to success in the coming era will be maintaining a laser-like focus on delivering even
greater value to core agency missions.
Let's take a look at federal health care as an example.
If we narrow our focus to the current agenda of federal health care IT priorities, including security, privacy and electronic
medical records interoperability, we might miss other important opportunities to contribute to what is still the most important
objective ' improved patient outcomes.
The bottom line in federal health care has to do with curing patients more efficiently and promoting wellness. So what's a federal IT manager to do?
First, spend more time talking to the front-line troops. The front lines in federal health care are the hospitals, clinics,
mobile facilities and labs. And the frontline troops are the doctors, nurses and support personnel who deliver health care
Taking the time to get out to the front lines yields two different types of benefits: You can identify new high-value
requirements, and you can trouble-shoot negative effects of existing IT solutions.
The frontline troops know what kind of information they need to get better results. A nurse understands that delays in entering
information about medications into the record can lead to double dosing. A doctor knows how patient outcomes could be improved if
lab results were delivered more quickly and if there were better ways to alert doctors that those results are available.
The frontline troops also know which IT systems are getting in the way of delivering better outcomes. The law of unintended
consequences sometimes results in our latest and greatest IT systems doing more harm than good, but there's no way to know
it unless we talk to the troops we're trying to help. Is the information provided by our systems clear, easy to use, easy to
share, timely and reliable? In some cases, we can deliver great value by undoing the damage that our systems have created.
So instead of following the natural instinct to hunker down during tough times, federal IT managers should prepare for
inevitable cutbacks by focusing on new and better ways to deliver value.
Meanwhile, don't stop at visits to the federal front lines. Federal IT managers also need to devote more attention to
high-value developments in the commercial marketplace. Let's use our health care example: Expand your interaction with large
commercial health care delivery organizations that have powerful solutions for maintaining and accessing medical records, using data
warehouses to identify medical procedures that work best, and facilitating better communication among health care providers.
None of this will be easy during an era of tight budgets. You'll need to take time from schedules that are already
tight and devote resources that you can't spare.
The toughest challenge of all is to make the case for selective
investments in new IT solutions. This will require even more effort
to develop recommendations, conduct business-case assessments, plan
new programs and battle for resources.
Why bother? Because we're not only facing an economic
crisis, we're also facing a crisis of confidence in
government. This is not a time for the federal IT community to
narrow our scope or be timid. Rather, it's a time to focus on
new, high-value IT solutions that can help our government weather
both storms and make a substantial contribution to the lives of the
Suss (warren.suss@sussconsulting. com) is president of Suss