Paul McCloskey


The one constant element of agency IT projects

I recently copied the text of the nomination forms for the 10 projects that won this year’s GCN Awards (14,659 words in all) into TagCrowd, which automatically makes one of those bubble charts that visualize word frequency. It also shows related words in rough proximity to one another. Common words like “system” were filtered out.

I thought that, given the times and the nature of the awards, the word “savings” or least “cost” would have hit the top 50 words.  Nope, frugality was nowhere to be found. Neither was “computer,” “digital,” “cloud,” "laptop” or “server.”

The list of my incorrect assumptions goes on.

I should have guessed: “secure,” with 94 occurrences and positioned at the center of the chart, followed by health (72), users (61), online (60) and performance (38).

Now if I were to separately summarize the common themes from this year’s winning  systems, I would break it down like this.

E-health: Three of the 10 projects (see story on Page 6) are in fact related to health care and, specifically, in making personal and population health information available electronically to beneficiaries and public health officials. This is the year, in the eyes of the our judges, that government e-health systems punched through the doldrums of planning to make a statement of effectiveness and value. No, “value" wasn’t on the list either.

User services: Several of the winning projects involve harnessing the enterprise — or in some cases the cloud — to significantly improve practical electronic services to agency users and workgroups. The General Services Administration’s move to Google's Gmail, the State Department's consular modernization project, and the Internal Revenue Service’s Modernized e-File systems all represent the big system processing parceled out to agency rank and file.

Extraordinary response: Several of the project winners involve the work of teams that, under tremendous time and pressure to maintain the safety of people or soldiers on the battlefield, mounted a rapid team response to highly complex technical problems.

One project, the Army’s Combat Service Satellite Network team, found a way to deliver satellite bandwidth to troops in the remote terrain of Afghanistan when existing available commercial satellite capacity was all but used up. And the Transportation Security Administration successfully took over a job that had bedeviled the airline industry: creating an effective airline passenger watch-list system.

Only one project — Boston’s Citizen Connect — involved social media, a realm where large federal and state government agencies are still finding their footing. Cities, where government is nose to nose with constituents, are an ideal proving ground for the use of social media in government. They will show their federal and state counterparts the way ahead.

Speaking of social media, TagCrowd did produce the keyword that links all these projects: security, as in health information security, transportation security, communications security, military security. It shows that uncertain information security characterizes even the most otherwise successful government IT projects. I’ll bet that next year, it earns the biggest TagCrowd bubble, too.

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is senior editor of GCN. A former editor-in-chief of both GCN and FCW, McCloskey was part of Federal Computer Week's founding editorial staff.

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