Industry cooperation has aided government's renewal

Alan Balutis

Laurie DeWitt

Change will bring new roles for CIOs and a more IT-literate work force

In the 1980s, the United States recorded slow economic growth, sluggish productivity growth and losses of global market share and technological leadership in key industries.

The cause of this subpar performance defied analysis, but the country heard dire warnings of economic decline and so-called de-industrialization.

America's trade competitors seemed to have developed an effective economic and technological weapon, a key feature of which was its emphasis on cooperation between government and industry rather than competition or distance.

A series of initiatives in the early 1980s helped change the emphasis on cooperation in the United States. Some were major congressional initiatives, such as the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980, the Bayh-Dole University and Small Business Patent Act of 1980 and the Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982.

Others initiatives were private, such as the chartering of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils in 1979 and the creation of Government Computer News in 1982.

We've seen a dramatic growth and change in the use and sophistication of IT over the past two decades. But that's best documented by writers more technically proficient than me. What is most notable, in my view, is the contribution GCN has made to an American governmental renaissance by its helping to create an environment and community that makes full use of ideas that arise from both government and industry.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, has noted the existence of segmentalist cultures, which are antichange and tend to have a narrow, compartmentalized perspective on problems. She contrasts that with integrative cultures, which provide a wide-open, team-oriented environment, in which innovation occurs across organizations.

GCN has helped the federal community became an integrative culture; indeed, it has helped us become a community. It has encouraged the treatment of problems and challenges as wholes, considering the wider implication of actions. It has helped reduce conflict and isolation between government and industry, created mechanisms for exchange of information and new ideas across boundaries, ensured that multiple perspectives will be taken into account in decisions, and provided coherence and direction to the whole community.

Goodbye and hello

This role should become more challenging in the years ahead. A series of studies of the federal work force predicts a massive exodus of IT staff and senior executives in the next three to five years. But embedded in that challenge is the opportunity to recruit a more computer-literate work force, dependent on, yet comfortable with, technology. That change should bring new roles for CIOs and their staffs, as IT becomes woven into the fabric of government agencies.

Some experts have even predicted the obsolescence of CIOs in the next four to five years'an irony only a decade after the enactment of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 that created them. But we'll continue to look to GCN to report on and analyze such events and trends as they occur.

Alan Balutis is executive director of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils and the Industry Advisory Council.

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