Alignment: A Key part to a successful digital transformation project

IT modernization remains a top priority for government leaders—it is no longer a case of “if”, but rather “when” transformation will occur. According to a recent study, 97% of IT decision makers are either currently undertaking digital transformation initiatives or have plans to by 2021. Now more than ever there is increased pressure on Government to become more Agile and efficient due in part to the new administration’s emphasis on reforming the federal government and reducing the federal civilian workforce (reference OPM Memo M-17-22). We are witnessing the perfect storm – the huge financial burden with 80% of the annual IT budget on operating and maintenance of existing systems, and the influx of money and support through the Modernizing Government Transformation (MGT) Act (Article: The 4 Components of IT Modernization). So, with the focus AND the budget, why are digital transformation projects failing?

Unsurprisingly, there are still numerous barriers that government IT leaders face, such as:

  • Business and IT misalignment
  • Time constraints
  • Legacy infrastructure and systems
  • Integrating siloed systems, apps, data, and processes
  • Lack of skill sets and experience
  • Risk management, compliance, and governance
  • Company culture and mindset
  • Hiring and retaining IT talent

While these numerous and very real barriers exist, the linchpin challenge remains the misalignment of the stakeholders (e.g. business and IT.) In simple terms, alignment is a ‘people’ issue. With the best of intentions in mind for the program, different parties play distinct roles and therefore speak different languages. Many components are lost in translation. The business or mission owners speak in terms of business need, the program owners speak in terms of technology solutions (typically the CIO shop in digital initiatives), the contracts team speaks in terms of contractual obligations and the end users of the system are focused on how the system works in practice not in best case scenarios.

Too often we see that systems are delayed, and cost escalate due to changing understanding, and even once a new system is in place, the organization fails to use the new technology as intended. The reality is, that the stakeholders often fail to adopt the new system fully. Resistance is often the result of the misalignment of; purpose, function, training to real world usage or benefits perceived by the various stakeholders. The result? Much money spent on replacing legacy systems do not produce the efficiencies expected because workaround solutions are developed by one or more stakeholders, or shadow IT solutions emerge to bridge the perceived gaps.

When government agencies put adequate attention to all stakeholders
the result will be a more effective, sustainable technology transformation project.

If stakeholder misalignment is dealt with proactively—it can make the difference in a large IT modernization project failing or succeeding. Technology modernization must be viewed as a business enabler. As such, not only should the CIO lead, but also needs to partner with the CHCO, the CFO, and the program leaders and maybe most critically the ultimate users of a technology to build sustainable transformation. Only with this unified alignment, and a comprehensive adoption management solution, can sustainable transformation be obtained. This approach leverages a deep understanding of IT, but also addresses leadership alignment, awareness and communications, stakeholder engagement, identifying and managing resistance, training, and reinforcing changes in behavior.

When people, process, and technology are aligned, stakeholders can better anticipate the interdependencies and mitigate roadblocks before they occur. This results in a smoother digital transformation that better meets the needs of the agency. In the legacy system modernization scenario, technology solutions are delivered in an iterative and incremental manner, while building capacity to bridge skill and culture gaps, as well as training and engagement to ensure workforce readiness along the way.

The bottom line? To be successful, federal IT leaders need a trusted partner who can cut through the noise and focus on people, process, and technology concurrently. All involved in the business of government transformation efforts must recognized that IT modernization is not an end in itself—but a means to make agencies more effective and build capacity to evolve to ensure they can fulfill mission objectives. When government agencies put adequate attention on all components simultaneously (people, process, technology), the result will be a more effective, sustainable technology transformation project.

Written by Mark Day and Nick Roemer.