The challenge of transformational change

Feds shouldn't stop trying to achieve more than incremental improvements

When it comes to the work of government and the technology that enables it, the opportunity for transformational change comes along only so often. This seems to be one of those times.

A confluence of events has made it possible for agencies to seriously reconsider how they design, buy and use technology: a technology market that is reinventing processing methods and applications on a massive scale; a society that increasingly lives and works wirelessly; and a White House and agency leaders who get the Web.

Take NASA’s move to develop cloud-based collaboration platforms, the rapid deployment of people-centric Web sites such as, and even the Apps for Army challenge. All suggest how game-changing thinking is permeating federal agencies.

History also suggests this: The odds are long that these types of initiatives will amount to more than incremental improvements, as opposed to the transformational changes they’re capable of.

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One man who appreciates the difference more than most is Louis Gerstner, a former IBM chairman and chief executive officer. Speaking at the Army’s recent LandWarNet conference, Gerstner recounted the essential ingredients to IBM’s institutional transformation. In essence, he argued, it wasn’t having the right strategies that mattered most but having leaders who remained focused on reshaping the culture in the middle of an organization that didn’t want to change. Those leaders were willing to dismantle and rebuild the core processes and align them to the new vision. And they could communicate a compelling story about why the organization had to change — and quickly.

The skepticism in the audience was palpable. The prospects of changing Army acquisition rules alone and other embedded practices seemed beyond imagination. Gerstner responded soberly that although society can afford for organizations even as big as IBM to fail, it can’t afford for the Army to fail. Then he added: “Hard doesn’t mean stop trying.” 

*     *     *

One of the great privileges of being editor-in-chief of GCN these past six years is the opportunities it afforded to meet so many men and women in the federal government who embrace that spirit — that no matter how hard it is to change things, they continue trying anyway. 

Effective this month, I will be taking on new duties at GCN’s parent company to develop government technology events and serve as editor-at-large for the 1105 Government Information Group publications. GCN will be left in the capable hands of Kevin McCaney, GCN’s managing editor, and David Rapp, who oversees editorial operations at 1105 Government Information Group.

I thank our readers for their loyalty and GCN’s writers and editors for their great dedication over the years.


About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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Reader Comments

Tue, Aug 17, 2010 W. A. Curtice, MSSM PacificNorthWest

Using any system to promote change in any organization requires communication at all levels. All levels must buy into the change process as it is directed from the top down, or so we have "learned from experiance" and as the great pundants have shown use in all the class rooms we have attended.The "Missing Link" in most change processes is not using Transmigrational Logic. Which is the "group dynamic" of everyone involved in the process communicates with everyone else. With that stated any change process will (ideally) be completed without any problems.

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