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FAQs:  IT Investments

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Q. How can we get our agency program managers more involved in managing IT?

"Management is the most difficult component of the problems federal agencies face [regarding IT]."   Information Week, January 1998

A. Integrating information technology (IT) management into the mainstream of agency management is not a simple, nor a short, process.

As federal government agencies respond to legislative mandates (ITMRA, GPRA, FASA, etc.) calling for the more efficient management of IT, senior managers are being asked to transition from solely managing more traditional program areas, to accepting greater responsibility for IT planning and decision-making.

Here are three initial steps to get things on track.

1. Understand why program managers have not been involved

As with any problem, a key step to formulating a workable solution is understanding what caused the problem in the first place. Although each organization is unique, there are a number of common causes, including: the organization’s culture, chronic communications gaps between IT professionals and program managers, and, the lack of organizational processes that effectively integrate IT decision-making with other key processes (e.g., strategic and mission planning, budgeting, performance evaluation, etc.).

Whatever the causes are in your agency, understand what they are before you try to solve them. (You might find, for example, that many of your program managers say that they simply don’t know what the technical people are talking about and they are intimidated by the jargon - a very common cause.)

2. Be prepared to get top management support early

Whatever the causes and the solutions, the best improvement efforts can be doomed to failure unless top agency management actively supports improvement efforts. Once you have a good idea of the underlying causes of the problem and have developed a realistic approach to resolving them, make sure that top management approves, "launches" the improvement process, and stays involved.

3. Get program managers "buy-in" to sharing responsibility for IT decisions

You will need to help program managers understand that IT is a tool. As decision-makers in their areas of specialization, they have a responsibility for selecting and managing the tools that enable (or disable) accomplishment of their program area’s mission objectives. They may not be familiar with IT, and may be intimidated by it. Let them know that making IT decisions is like making other "business decisions". It takes sound "business judgment" (something they may already have), not sophisticated knowledge about technology (something most do not have).

Accomplishing this will likely require a sustained training effort specifically designed to overcome the barriers (cultural, communications, and other) that caused the problem in the first place.

Keep in mind that sharing responsibility will mean that they should share in the authority!

Learning to make IT decisions is one part of the overall management of information technology. For further information on this topic, refer the managers to RMS’ free on-line tutorials, The IT Investment Management Approach, and IT Performance Management.

RMS will be adding new information on these and other related issues in the months to come. Stop by often.

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