May 20, 2009

The Duty to Increase Technology Literacy

Responsibility wristbandRobert Groves, President Obama's pick to lead the Census Bureau offered a new competency for leadership when he was before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, criticized the bureau's program to develop handheld computers..."It's really been appalling, after spending literally billions of dollars and much time, the Census Bureau scrapped its plans to use handheld technology for nonresponse follow-up due to significant performance problems and a loss of confidence in its contractors," Collins said.

[When Groves was] asked how he would correct problems associated with the handhelds. He said the IT issues stemmed partly from management issues and partly from an absence of research and development. Groves said he would ask the bureau's top leaders to become involved in all future IT projects.

"It seems clear in my part of the IT world, large-scale surveys, that successful hardware and software development has
the user involved at the beginning, middle and end," he said, adding the traditional model of developing a list of requirements and waiting for the product to be built no longer works. "Leadership at Census can't walk away from these contracts; they must be involved. This way you build a little piece, if it's not satisfactory, you throw it away." [my emphasis] --Read the entire article on NextGov.
At a time when all of our systems are running on technology, it's critical that leaders and managers have a basic competency in technology. This doesn't mean that program managers need to know how to code, bring up a server or reindex a database. 

It does mean that they need an understanding of the complexity of systems, the confidence to ask questions, and the knowledge to pull a plug or refocus efforts when necessary. It means they need to get beyond the promise of what can be to a cool-eyed assessment of timelines and requirements. It means that leaders need to develop trusted tech-counselors to help fill their technical gaps.

In 2009, leaders can't outsource or abdicate technology knowledge. They need to amass it. Amen, Mr. Groves. 

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