Government must learn to move fast, survey finds

Government must learn to move fast, survey finds

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

As the government models its operations on the private sector, it will have to conduct business in Internet time, the authors of a new study found.

ITAA asked CIOs to estimate the degree to which the government has moved forward on select systems issues.

'Citizens are becoming conditioned to a remarkable pace of change in society, fueled by competition and the use of technology. They will expect the same from their government,' according to Federal IT Into the New Millennium: Ready, Set, Go, the 10th annual survey of IT executives by the Information Technology Association of America of Arlington, Va.

'These demands will have a pervasive impact on the processes and institutions of government, and federal [chief information officers] will be called on to help speed and manage the change,' the report said.

The report's implications cover a variety of conditions, including how government budgets, the work force shortage and general leadership questions, said Paul A. Wohlleben, a partner with Grant Thornton LLP of Vienna, Va., and a project manager for the ITAA study.

IT executives will have to make decisions faster, he said.

Big issues

The annual survey comprised interviews with 34 IT executives across government and a review by oversight organizations from Congress and the General Accounting Office.

Nearly every respondent raised two issues: systems security and the IT work force shortage. Executives called critical infrastructure protection and security the next big topic after the year 2000 problem. The interviews were conducted last summer and fall.

They said the security issue will be critical to agency electronic government initiatives, particularly as agencies expand the Web's role from information distributor to a vehicle for mission-critical government transactions. The executives showed little interest in a governmentwide CIO post. But they recommended naming a security czar whose role would be similar to John A. Koskinen's in the year 2000 effort.

CIOs said they do not have the resources they need to effectively ensure cybersecurity. The IT work force shortage was met with a degree of skepticism, as senior executives said they are unable to grasp the complex problem.

The looming issue is the age of current personnel.''Over 50 percent of their IT work force would be eligible to retire within three years, underscoring the work force issue as a problem that will get worse before it gets better,' the survey said.

Another concern is the lack of entry-level hiring, which has left agencies without the proper skill mix. 'The rapid rate of technology change, in combination with the lack of current technology skills, is creating a significant gap between skill supply and demand in the federal workplace,' the report said.

There is also a lack of project and program management skills, the report said.

Recruitment limitations'less competitive federal salaries and benefits'also complicate the problem. Some agency officials said they are considering hiring and training liberal arts majors in IT. One CIO said his agency is reaching out through a college intern program and is looking beyond traditional four-year schools.

The work force shortage will make agencies increasingly reliant on the private sector, Wohlleben said. IT staffs, however, will continue to need good risk and project management skills to oversee the contractors.

'Radical change is required,' Wohlleben said, but few expect it. Marginal change, however, could boost retention, he said.

CIOs reported slow but steady progress in being included on senior management teams. They said they use the agency architecture to fulfill the requirements of the IT Management Reform Act, but it does not play a key role in management.

Among the other subjects discussed:

''Electronic government: Many new opportunities depend on the infrastructure.

''Seat management: PC outsourcing continues to attract interest, but it is too early to tell the extent of its success.

''Enterprise resource planning: CIOs are interested but in most cases are not main decision-makers. In a change, most agencies have decided to change their processes rather than customize ERP software.

One CIO said there are two ways to perform an ERP rollout: vanilla or rocky road. In the former, the agency changes its processes, not the software. In the latter, the agency changes the software. The survey also found that the best-of-class ERP approach is more popular than the single vendor.

The report is online at

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