Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Government IT procurement is so Broken...

The DoD recently mandated shorter release cycles for software programs, as covered in a Fed News Radio piece ( Five decades of IT best practice finally makes it onto the radar.  Hooray, kudos, congrats.  But, we still have a long way to go, judging by the magnitude and number of misconceptions communicated in this short piece.  Here is a classic:

[said Wert] "Literally within the past few years, IT infrastructure-things we call service-oriented architecture-are becoming readily available. It used to be, 'how do we design one?' Now it's 'let's pick one and buy it.'"

Service oriented architecture is about the tooling?  Wrong.  The heavy lifting is determining the services within your portfolio, and then making them act as services, which often involves significant organizational change (both human & procedure).  Tooling helps, but this tools-first practice just feeds the billion dollar disaster parade of: buy first, figure out what to do with it later.  For a review of mile markers on this trail of tears, see

And another widespread misunderstanding is highlighted by these statements:
But one challenge Wert faces ... is a lack of skilled Air Force acquisition experts. ... "The atrophy that happened, especially in our government workforce, really is shocking," he said. ...The acquisition workforce is one of the few areas that secretary Robert Gates exempted in his hiring freeze in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

And the problem with IT projects is acquisition?  Federal IT acquisition is buying $80B/year of services and products, but not getting $80B of value for that purchase.  Where are the program staff who know how to run an IT project? ...who know how to make a business case? ...who know how to build a roadmap to generate steady results? ...who value the people and skill part of the equation?

Framing IT problems as acquisition problems ensures that we will continue to see large COTS purchases that fail to deploy.  Well, perhaps they'll fail faster.

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