RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • Federal leaders acknowledge that new leadership approaches are needed to deliver upon technology’s full promise.
  • They must lead with more strategic vision, embrace open collaboration and faster decision-making, and drive creativity and accountability.
  • In this report, current and former government IT experts share what it takes to lead IT reforms and transform how agencies use technology.


Government leaders now have an opportunity to drive bold IT reforms in their agencies to keep pace with the evolution of technology and deliver capabilities to critical mission areas more quickly, efficiently, and securely. Federal agencies are taking advantage of technologies such as cloud computing that provide a low-cost way to store and use massive amounts of data. They are also shifting to more flexible models and approaches to deliver IT systems in months rather than years and are sharing, adapting, and reusing technologies rather than building from scratch.

From the interviews, five strategies emerged as essential for enabling leaders to drive IT improvements in government; these include:

  1. Linking technology initiatives directly to results based on a deep understanding of the mission.
  2. Transforming the culture and how the organization does business.
  3. Focusing on people and adeptly managing different stakeholders.
  4. Encouraging organizations to act more quickly and take more risks.
  5. Managing change brought about by technology rather than reacting to it.
"Government is on the verge of a paradigm shift in terms of how technology is being absorbed by organizations. It is becoming completely different than operating technology in past decades."

— Dave McClure, Principal Director – Federal CIO Advisory Services, Accenture Federal Services

Linking technology initiatives to the mission

IT leaders did not upgrade technology for its own sake but sought allies among mission-focused staff to ensure IT reforms would deliver results like streamlining operations or improving customer service. They avoided IT jargon, speaking instead in the “language of the mission.” They were also able to assess how IT improvements could contribute to the agency’s most important goals and communicate to leaders and program staff how modernizing IT could help the agency achieve better results.

Transforming the culture

Our interviewees’ critical accomplishments involved efforts to change how their organizations work, how they communicate, how they plan and manage projects, and how they approach problems. IT leaders shifted their agencies to modern IT practices using agile software development approaches to build systems incrementally with continual feedback from end-users. These practices allow the government to reduce the risk of projects failing, move more quickly and nimbly to deal with increasingly complex missions, and meet citizens’ rapidly changing expectations.

Focusing on people and managing stakeholders

The experts recognized that technology transformations are far too complex for one person or team to do alone. They said the success of their reforms required establishing a clear vision for that reform, building support among myriad stakeholders, leading coordination and collaborating across organizations, and inspiring and empowering their employees to own IT improvements.

"IT efforts often fail because they don’t focus on people. The focus for someone in my role should be 80 percent people, 20 percent IT."

— David Bray, Former Chief Information Officer – Federal Communications Commission

Pushing agencies to move faster and take more risks

Recognizing that technology users expect to have their needs fulfilled on demand, the leaders we interviewed pushed their organizations to adopt a fast, agile approach by responding to users’ needs and incorporating their feedback. They held their staff to high standards and accelerated project timelines, removed roadblocks and unnecessary layers of approval, and shouldered responsibility when a new idea or calculated risk did not work as planned.

Managing change rather than reacting to it

The leaders we interviewed acknowledged that technology transformations bring dramatic change, which is sometimes met with pushback and legitimate concerns. So they established and communicated a clear vision for what the goals were and how they would deal with problems that might arise. They focused on actively addressing concerns, and putting their organizations in control of the change, rather than framing it as something that would happen to them by external forces or requirements.

Learn more: This report, jointly sponsored by the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services, shares tips and insights captured from interviews with experts who have led technology transformations in government. It explains what leaders need to know before they embark on IT reforms, where to start, which stakeholders need to be involved, and how to maintain momentum and achieve lasting benefits.

Use the View Full Report button to access and download the expanded report.

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