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
    business goals.

  • 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
    and money.

  • 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 protected]

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.


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