The Challenge of Government Management
In government, as well as in the private sector, making good things happen with technology is primarily a management challenge, not a technological one. Technology investment must flow from a clearly articulated strategy, and technology must be deployed by and in organizational structures that are designed to make holistic decisions about technology—and to take full advantage of it.
President Barack Obama emphasizes open government and education, but there are many other national needs that technology can address:
• The U.S. population grew nearly 20 percent between 1982 and 2001, but traffic increased 236 percent. Roadside sensors, radio frequency tags and global positioning systems can fit in where there is no room for more roads. A smart system in Stockholm resulted in 22 percent less traffic and a 40 percent drop in emissions. London, Brisbane and Singapore also are taking advantage of this technology.
• Intelligent oil-field technology can increase both pump performance and well productivity in a business where only 20 percent to 30 percent of the reservoir is extracted and turned into some form of energy. Meanwhile, we lose between 40 percent and 70 percent of our electrical energy due to “dumb” electric grids.
• Electronic health records and networking could eventually save $81 billion annually. And Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) increases patient safety by listing instructions for physicians to follow when they prescribe drugs. If installed in all hospitals, CPOE could potentially eliminate 200,000 adverse drug events and save about $1 billion a year.
The Government Accountability Office has its own list of urgent technology priorities for the Obama administration:
• Preparing for and carrying out the 2010 census
• Crucial large-scale modernization efforts at the Depart-ment of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
• Establishing information-sharing mechanisms to improve homeland security
• Protecting the federal government’s information systems and the nation’s critical infrastructures.
Information technology can do a lot to address the problems we face. After all, the Wall Street trading room, the doctor’s office and the anti-terrorism command center are, in essence, information markets. And the Social Security Administration, IRS and Federal Reserve Board are sifters of information. These agencies deal in vital information, yet they don’t do much better than many other organizations in getting their technology functioning well. It all comes down to management, pure and simple.
Over the next five years, those who govern at the federal level will inherit the policy responsibilities for tax and other incentives that make this country attractive for technology manufacturing and research; policies that encourage young people to enter technology fields; private/government R&D partnerships that make it possible to do what corporations can’t afford to do alone; and trade agreements with other nations.
The things that concern us the most—terrorism, the economy, health care and even just a better commute—have technological solutions. And we expect the government to come up with them. Our politicians will succeed or fail based largely on how well they manage the technology.
Faisal Hoque is chairman and CEO of BTM Corporation and author of a forthcoming book, The Convergence Scorecard, to be published by the Harvard Business Press. © 2009 Faisal Hoque