Obama administration officials, led by federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, met with CEOs of companies such as United Airlines and Weyerhaeuser to discuss how to better employ technology to make agencies more efficient and responsive. (CHRIS MADDALONI / STAFF)
As the government tries to modernize its information technology systems, managers shouldn't try to solve every problem simultaneously, private-sector CEOs advised Jan. 14.
Obama administration officials, led by federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, met with CEOs of companies such as United Airlines and Weyerhaeuser to discuss how to better employ technology to make agencies more efficient and responsive.
"Pick a problem every quarter — every quarter we are committed to making one problem solved," said Ping Fu, CEO of Geomagic. "By the end of the year, we have solved four problems. If I asked everyone at the beginning of the year to solve four problems, we would have four problems not solved by the end of the year."
The government shouldn't be afraid of failing when it designs large IT projects, as larger projects are more likely to fail than smaller ones, Fu said.
"Look at the failure itself as an asset, because a key failure helps you to identify the problem in the organization itself. Failure crystallizes where the issue is. Early failure is cheaper than later failure. Take it as an opportunity because it is a warning of later failure," she said.
Change must also come quickly, even though changes can be daunting, the CEOs said. Agencies can't take years to design and tinker with new systems, said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, as taking too long can result in a useless product.
"Anything that takes more than 18 months is probably too complex and will probably be outdated by then," he said.
Agencies must also not be overwhelmed by the scope of reforms. Sybase Inc. CEO John Chen said the federal government shouldn't try to solve all of its modernization issues at once or try "connecting 60 silos."
"You've got to think about whether that's even possible," he said, recommending that agencies try to connect two or three disparate networks or databases instead.
Federal employees also should be asked what they'd do to improve their agencies' operations, said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. Gage told the CEOs and administration officials that implementing strategic change is difficult because Congress can change an agency's mission at any moment.
"You could have the best strategic plan and then, pow, you have a new program and plan," he said.