Government 2.0 and Agency Culture an Uneasy Mix

Ann All

As I write fairly often in my posts here, making cultural and process changes to support new technology almost always presents a greater hurdle than implementing the technology itself. While this is true for just about any organization, it's liable to be especially so for government agencies, which are better known for insularity and ingrained practices than innovation.


So perhaps it's no surprise that federal agencies appear reluctant to use Apps.gov, a 9-month-old website that was supposed to help them purchase cloud computing services -- one of the changes recommended to reduce government IT spending. The site is being tweaked in an effort to turn folks visiting the site into buyers, reported The Wall Street Journal last month. Only about 170 transactions were made in the site's first eight months, including downloads of license agreements in addition to software purchases.


While the site allows agencies to bypass the normal bidding process and quickly buy government-approved software and online services with credit cards, many agencies have hesitated to buy due to concerns about compliance with security requirements and terms of service. The Federal Communications Commission, led by former Microsoft Corp. executive Steve VanRoekel, adopted several of the applications available from Apps.gov, but negotiated its own terms with vendors, according to the story.


Are government CIOs more reluctant to adopt new ideas than their private-sector counterparts? Maybe so. Gartner analyst Andrea Di Maio shared some ideas developed by government CIOs at a Gartner event last month in London, which he called "good ideas, but not bold enough." When asked to come up with some ideas for using Web 2.0 technologies to help agencies reduce costs, CIOs suggested making it easier for citizens to report potholes and creating online exchanges for government employees to trade recyclable or surplus items within government, among other ideas.


All the ideas involved agencies creating a Web presence or communities rather than identifying and reaching out to existing communities. Di Maio wrote:

So, why do government people insist to "build something" with web 2.0 rather than realizing that in most cases people self-organize and select the channel they want to use or the community they want to belong to? Why do they focus so much on "citizens" and so little on "employees"?

Agency CIOs remain uncomfortable with the key 2.0 principle of of relaxing control enough to encourage and even reward individual initiatives, Di Maio said. This is a concern, since it's the IT professional's job to educate agency bosses about both the opportunities and risks of using Web 2.0 technologies.


In a comment following Di Maio's post, a reader named Matthew Sanders pointed out an issue that puts government agencies at a disadvantage in considering 2.0 technologies. While private companies fret about financial returns, it's a much bigger worry for government agencies, wrote Sanders:

... In commerce it's easier to get investment in these ideas because companies are willing to explore ideas with the possibility of failure because the possibility of a huge commercial payoff or strategic advantage is a big enough motivator. Also businesses I've worked with are willing to adapt a more agile approach to development whereas local government goes through a more structured procurement where payoffs need to be guaranteed. ...

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 2, 2010 12:24 PM Craig Craig  says:

Andrea is a bloke by the way. You called him 'she' in the article.

You'd know this if you researched his blog.

Jun 3, 2010 4:02 PM Ann All Ann All  says: in response to Craig

Yes I did, and I'm sorry for the mistake. I don't know if you'd call it 'research' but I am a semi-regular reader of the blog. Obviously I hadn't read his bio, just stuck to the posts. Thanks for pointing it out, and I certainly won't make this mistake again.


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