Managing the Business of Our Country
In the U.S. government, executive endorsement comes directly from the White House, and one of the greatest instruments of project prioritization is the annual State of the Union Address. For generations, presidents have used the State of the Union to set their domestic and international agendas, set government priorities, and lead the nation in new initiatives.
Along with millions of other Americans this past January 25th, I watched as President Obama delivered the 2011 State of the Union Address. A number of the themes he spoke about struck me as extremely relevant and quite critical regarding the future of our country, including his following call to action:
“So now is the time to act. Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done. If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.
“Let me take this one step further. We shouldn't just give our people a government that's more affordable. We should give them a government that's more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.
“We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy.”
Investment management. Efficiency. Reorganization. Integration. None of these are new problems; nor are they new solutions. However you choose to view them, the approach taken in dealing with them is what can make the difference between the impact the President is seeking to obtain, and the failure that could result if managed ineffectively.
Unfortunately, although not completely unfounded, public perception of the quality and efficiency of government projects and services is rather poor. The popular belief is that the government is populated with people who couldn’t hack the private sector, so they live in the shelter of civil service where they’re not held accountable to performance standards. The truth is the government isn’t made up of incompetent administrators. A few bad apples may tarnish the reputation of the whole system. But the larger problem stems from numerous inefficiencies caused by non-converged oversight, insufficient (or nonexistent) management, deficient accountability structures, and spending programs that are misaligned from intended outcomes. These inefficiencies aren’t a reflection of the government, but rather the complexity of managing numerous complex Programs within large organizations.
Taking the Right Approach
Clearly defining the mission and vision of a public sector department/agency, effectively creating and communicating a roadmap to achieve the desired outcomes, and then validating the actual results is a simple enough concept. Yet many government agencies display only limited success in creating an environment in which the development of strategic goals is reinforced by processes that organize and align their activities in support of achieving goals. It’s even more rare that the government agency effectively manages its mission and technology together and with predefined metrics to achieve mission goals.
Today, the U.S. federal government has a long list of technology-based projects that are either languishing in development, stalled by bureaucratic malaise, or simply underperforming and far from meeting their stated goals. To put it another way: It’s the management—not the technology—that makes a true difference.
When most people hear the word ‘integration’ they often immediately associate with the fallout of Wall Street’s latest M&A announcement or the failure of a large system integration project in private or public sector. But whether one sets out to bring together companies, departments, agencies, or ideas, there is a method that needs to be employed in any type of consolidation effort. Integration, whether it’s about organization, process, or technology is never easy. And it doesn’t apply to the private sector alone. It is taking place across a number of federal agencies as you read this article. President Obama stated:
“Now, we have made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste. Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We're selling acres of federal office space that hasn't been used in years, and we will cut through red tape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.”
As I have discussed in previous writings regarding the management of business and technology in enterprises, establishing a governance process is a major part of this integration process. In government organizations, that process begins by establishing effective feedback and review processes of the agency’s current state and desired future state. A key element of this feedback is the clear articulation of the criteria that will be used to judge the success of each initiative undertaken to achieve a strategic goal.
Communication is often a prerequisite for establishing an effective “mission-driven” strategy, which is the result of a predictable planning process used to define and document the specific organizational capabilities that must be put in place to achieve goals and objectives. Once an agency has decided on its course, it must communicate the expected outcomes to its internal and external stakeholders. That means that in addition to documenting and planning for the execution of strategic initiatives, an agency must monitor the outcomes of each decision using mission-focused metrics that measure success in terms suitable both for agency executives and oversight groups. In order to do so effectively, and in a repeatable manner, they need practical yet analytical capabilities that can:
- Visually portray and assess an organization’s operating models and associated cost optimization
- Measure an organization’s governance and management structure as it relates to its service delivery and operations
- Move from current state to a higher value future state by following a Roadmap
- Assess alternative scenarios and strategic options
- Link between mission, execution process, and technology automation through modeling scenarios
The ultimate responsibility for all organizational initiatives and productivity resides squarely in the executive corner. Without executive buy-in and support, major strategic initiatives and even many operational programs will stall or fail. However, executive endorsement isn’t enough to make programs work. Putting improvement plans into action requires the vigilance of management at all levels to ensure programs are carried out according to the organization’s needs and goals.
This means active involvement in articulating the mission’s strategic vision, establishing metrics for its deployment and operations, and providing oversight of risks and compliance management. These capabilities ensure that required decisions are identified, assigned and effectively executed at the executive, agency, and program levels of government.
None of these things will happen overnight, and pitfalls and challenges are attached to each. An organization—private enterprise or government agency—setting out to improve the way it manages business and technology must realize that changing its governance and the organization will require time and attention.
Faisal Hoque is the founder and CEO of BTM Corporation. A former senior executive at GE and other multi-nationals, Faisal is an internationally known entrepreneur and thought leader. He has written five management books, established a non-profit research think tank, The BTM Institute, and become a leading authority on the issue of effective interaction between business and technology. His next book, The Power of Convergence, will be available in May 2011.