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FCW : January 2016
DrillDown 32 January 2016 FCW.COM value of the innovation, many inno- vators simply abandon the innova- tion, even when it intuitively appears valuable. 4. Procurement rules inhibit quick wins While funding can be a problem within the federal government, procurement rules are a greater challenge. Most agencies express frustration in their ability to quickly attract and retain the skilled external consultants needed to implement the innovation, particularly if it is a tactical or strategic, rather than a more straightforward operational, innovation. They are equally frustrated with the antiquated and often byzantine acqui- sition rules and procedures. Once a potential innovative problem is select- ed, acquisition becomes a significant challenge, whether experimenting with the initial concept, scaling it up for commercialization or extending it for full-scale implementation across the government. Former Peace Corps CIO Dorine Andrews says it is important to bring in external parties to assist with inno- vation. She gives an example of hir- ing software development personnel trained in agile methodologies, but notes the length of time it took to bring them in. In her words, “Federal contracting is its own world.” Frustration stemmed from an agen- cy procurement process that took 18 months to produce inches-thick pro- curement documentation for a $50,000 contract. NSF’s Northcutt notes that acqui- sition tends to be very conservative; thus, agency leadership needs to part- ner with acquisition and work within its regulations and strictures. Northcutt stresses that the process is not neces- sarily broken — it can and sometimes does work — but it is extremely labo- rious, requiring exceptional attention to detail and a great deal of patience. Because innovations spring up as new ideas, many existing contract vehicles are simply not designed to accommodate something truly new. As a result, the agency is left to either use an existing but ill-suited consultant to do the work, or to process the paper- work to engage a suitable contractor. This process can take many months, and as a result, potentially innovative ideas lose momentum and are aban- doned due to the procurement issues. 5. Few metrics are kept Finally, very few metrics appear to be kept on innovation, and this stymies the ability to understand either the effectiveness of the innovation process at each agency or the issues associated with it. This is true at every stage of the model. As a result, much of the work on innovation is based on “best guesses” from those involved in the process. One CIO notes that no inno- vation metrics of any sort are used or tracked and that they are “‘pre-metric’ with no plans to get there.” However, innovation metrics are critical indicators of the future status of the IT function, as they can be used to track relevance in the face of tech- nological change. The full life cycle cost of IT and how to measure it is another issue of concern. As NRC’s Ash expresses, “We buy a lot of cute puppies, but they get big and expen- sive to feed.” There is a trade-off as every inno- vation that introduces a system has to have an offset or a specific budget line to account for it, requiring excel- lent estimation and measurement skills. This is even more critical in a time when the technical debt associ- ated with legacy systems is growing rapidly and must be addressed with innovative solutions before it becomes insurmountable. Ideally, detailed metrics should be kept on each step. In fact, Army Deputy CIO Gary Wang does just this. His metrics tracked inputs, processes and outputs, and were divided among resource, capability and leadership views. For example, a question in the capability view of inputs was “what percentage of employees have been trained in innovation?”; one in the leadership view of processes was “is senior leadership directly accountable for the organization’s innovation pro- cesses?”; and one in the resource view of outputs was “what is the innovation revenue per employee?” We can quite easily see this resource- capability-leadership approach applied to the five stages of the innovation model with great success. This is an excellent use of metrics, and similar ones should be adopted for all orga- nizations within every stage of the innovation life cycle. However, this was an outlier in our interviews, and most agencies do not track any metrics associated with innovation. n Gregory S. Dawson is a senior faculty associate at the Center for Organization Research and Design in the College of Public Programs at Arizona State University. James S. Denford is an associate professor and head of the Management and Economics Department at the Royal Military College of Canada. Lacking the ability to calculate the value of the innovation, many innovators simply abandon the innovation, even when it intuitively appears valuable. 0116fcw_030-032.indd 32 1/4/16 3:51 PM
November and December 2015