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One Major Factor Driving Government Transformation: Effectiveness

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The IBM Center recently released Seven Drivers Transforming Government, a series of essays exploring key drivers of change in government. It is based on research and insights shared by current and former government officials. What follows is an edited excerpt from that report.

Initiatives to make government more effective have received bipartisan support across multiple presidential administrations. Such efforts include the adoption of enterprise-wide mission-support services across program and organizational boundaries, and the expanded use of data and evidence to make better decisions about how resources are allocated.

As Professor Jane Fountain acknowledges in her special report for the IBM Center and the Partnership for Public Service, Building an Enterprise Government, the future of government performance relies not simply on greater efficiency, but also on increasing capacity to leverage an enterprise approach across agencies.

Driving meaningful and sustainable effectiveness in the federal government depends not just on new policies or the adoption of innovative technologies, but a focus on sound implementation. Shared services initiatives in mission support functions such as financial management and human resources have been instituted; looking ahead, framing budget and strategy plans from an enterprise perspective will support innovation, improve processes, and enhance decision making.

Building an Enterprise Perspective

Fountain observes two enterprise perspectives in government. The first, focused on the mission, involves collaboration to tackle complex policy problems that cross agency boundaries. Fragmentation and lack of coordination and communication across jurisdictions present the primary challenge, rather than redundancy and duplication.

The second, focused on mission support, emphasizes streamlining administrative services, processes and functions. Examples include shared financial, human capital and IT services, and management of grants and loans.

Streamlining also supports improved service quality—internally for agencies, and externally for citizens and clients. Moreover, the use of shared services for mission-support functions provides a strong foundation to execute mission-focused enterprise goals.

The Top-down Approach

By taking an enterprise-wide perspective, government leaders can establish an integrated operational picture to identify opportunities and risks not evident from the narrower perspective of a single agency or operational area. A top-down perspective can also promote coordination and enable more strategic decision making and investment while improving resilience through clear and sustainable lines of accountability and authority.

An enterprise approach to government operations supports cost-effective structures and strategies. For example, the General Services Administration’s Unified Shared Services Management Office has created a governance framework and migration strategy for common administrative support services, such as financial management and human resources management, while establishing the foundation for a dynamic, competitive marketplace for these services.

The Bottom-up Approach

When aligned with top-down strategies for improving operational effectiveness, strategies that empower front-line managers can drive more effective service delivery to customers.

Rather than providing one-size-fits-all guidance, providing discretion for front-line managers can improve operational and mission effectiveness for issues ranging from international trade to the treatment of disabled employees. To enable effective decision making and accountability, however, decisions by line managers must be supported with appropriate data and analytics.

Delegating more responsibility and autonomy to lower-level managers can also incentivize more efficient operations. At the Office of Personnel Management , specific pay authorities are delegated to agencies in exchange for achieving specific policy goals. If goals are not met, OPM withdraws the delegations and makes decisions centrally.

Creating a Foundation for More Effective Operations

To drive effective operations through both top-down and bottom-up strategies, government leaders need the right capabilities and tools, such as:

  • Advanced analytics: Better integration of data across agencies leads to better insights. Advanced analytical capabilities can predict fraudulent claims, prevent improper payments, support problem solving, and foster more effective internal operations as well as mission delivery.
  • Modern IT systems: Replacing duplicative and obsolete legacy systems with cloud-enabled and secure infrastructure, applications, and mobility will improve performance, cost-efficiency, and security, while supporting higher quality and more innovative services.
  • Optimized supply chain and acquisition processes: Capitalizing on the collective buying power of agencies, along with new tools and technologies, can enable better and faster analysis of information about suppliers, markets, and prices while aligning insights with complex federal procurement regulations.

Cross-boundary challenges facing government today rarely fit into neat bureaucratic boxes, and often require cross-boundary responses, thus compelling government to build such capacity to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and streamline citizen services. Enterprise approaches that leverage modern management and technology systems and practices can enable progress across the public sector. The evolution of enterprise government can give fresh momentum to improving effectiveness and driving transformation in government.

Haynes Cooney is the Research Program Manager at the IBM Institute for Business Value.

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