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The federal government can learn a lot from the private sector to improve IT program management and customer service and create a more modern government, concluded attendees of a forum comprised of both federal and private-sector leaders.
The government should take a more business-minded approach to how it manages its IT projects, as well as step up efforts already in place to increase transparency and accountability, according to a recently released report about the White House Forum on Modernizing Government.
President Obama spoke at the forum, which was moderated by chief performance officer Jeff Zients and director Peter Orszag of the Office of Management and Budget, and attended by 50 CEOs.
The Obama administration has taken a keen interest in working with the private sector to improve how it handles government IT operations.
In addition to areas the forum tackled, cybersecurity is another key area in which the administration is actively engaging with the private sector, which maintains and owns most of the country's critical IT infrastructure.
Most government IT projects are too long and not sufficiently integrated into business unit operations, and are usually managed by people who leave before the project is completed, rather than agency business leaders who can stay with them through their entire lifecycle, according to the report.
This more or less dooms them from the start, leaving no one really accountable for making sure the projects are successful.
"As a result, in comparison to industry best practices, federal IT projects are too often marked by milestones spaced too far apart and deliverables that fail to deliver tangible end-user value," the report concluded.
Integrating the business aspects of the federal government with its IT projects, the way private-sector companies do, can help improve program management, according to the report.
The federal government should follow in the footsteps of the private sector in the area of customer service, and CEOs at the forum recommended several ways it can begin to make improvements in this area.
Specifically, they recommended the government develop customer-satisfaction surveys to really drill down on customer opinions about service.
"By better understanding the best practices in customer monitoring, we can modernize the way government agencies measure citizen satisfaction with the services they provide," according to the report.
Further, the government should develop high standards for customer service, post them publicly, and stick by them.
Moreover, it should allow people to see how long they have to wait for government customer service in an online queue, which will give them more faith in how the government is working for them, according to the report.
"As demonstrated by high-performing private sector organizations, allowing citizens to find information about their status online holds the promise of improving accuracy, increasing operational efficiency by highlighting potential bottlenecks, and lessening the burden on strained call centers and walk-in offices," the report concluded.
Improving customer service also shows the government is being more accountable for IT operations, another area in which it can learn from the private sector.
Forum participants praised current government efforts like the Federal IT Dashboard, which allows people to track the status and cost of government IT projects.
"Transparency brings accountability and attention to projects that need to be either modified or shut down," according to the report. "Further, the American people deserve to understand how their tax dollars are spent."
Continuing transparency efforts like the dashboard, as well as regular reviews by agency chief information officers of at-risk IT projects -- meetings that have come to be known as "Techstat" sessions -- will keep the administration moving in the right direction to improve accountability, according to the report.