Of the people: Things are changing'and we've got to talk

Ira Hobbs

It's been a rough time for me since I wrote my last column for GCN. I'm sure you'll understand. There are simply too many things in a day for government managers to do, and I've struggled to find time to sit down and write. So despite the many helpful reminders from my editors, I was late getting this article written and submitted.

What have I been doing that is so tough? Actually, the bulk of my time lately has not been spent doing what you might normally think of as IT management. These past few weeks I've spent most of my time building relationships. You might be tired of hearing me speak about the importance of collaboration and communication, but I've recognized that getting things done right nowadays requires partnerships. Forming partnerships requires a lot of listening and talking.

Across government we are moving toward a critical milestone. The homeland security roller coaster is gaining speed'indeed, a vast new department. E-government is growing from infancy into adolescence, forcing us to answer all the tough questions along the way. And a growing cast of characters is screaming the alarm regarding human capital, that is, the flight of people from government's managerial ranks.

Where does this all lead? Well, in government, folks' first instinct for how to successfully resolve any issue is usually to follow the money. When I do so, unfortunately, I usually find it belongs to somebody else.

In the past, as we each presided over our own pot of money and built our own stovepipe systems, program and technology managers didn't really need to have relationships with one another. But today, when the focus is on leveraging investments to serve all government's customers seamlessly, managers can no longer ignore each other, whether within their own departments or across agencies. We must talk to one another and share the wealth.

For me, it always comes down to three things'leadership, leadership and leadership. I don't mean the chain-of-command leadership. I mean personal engagement of each manager and executive. We need to be talking to the people in cubicles, down the hall, and on the floors above and below us about how their plans and activities are intertwined with our own.

Talking productively and sharing are hard, and require a more disciplined approach than has been typically seen in the government. I know you say such openness is not a part of our culture, and that may be true. But if we are going to achieve the promises IT offers, we must forge a new culture that promotes communication and collaboration.

Ira Hobbs is acting CIO at the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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