Harvard: Government Leaders Should Direct, Not Delegate, IT Policy

Harvard: Government Leaders Should Direct, Not Delegate, IT Policy

Too much delegation of authority by government officials on information technology projects is a recipe for disaster, according to a new Harvard University study released Dec. 14. The report was released on the second day of the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council meeting in Las Vegas.


While it was not too long ago that delegation was a safe approach, it is no longer sufficient or acceptable, said the authors of the first in an eight-part series on information technology and electronic government strategy.


"There was a comfortable stance taken before on IT where [government] leaders said, 'I don't do this,' and they would delegate IT work," said Jerry Mechling, director of the Program on Strategic Computing and Telecommunications in the Public Sector in the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.


But now, "the leadership aspect has become the central task" for public officials, he said.


Government leaders who want IT projects to succeed must gather a full complement of experience, authority and judgment to ensure success, the report said. Because organizational change is a core problem, those with authority over personnel, finances and other resources must be fully engaged.


The Harvard policy group on network-enabled services in government has identified what it deems are eight imperatives for government leaders in a networked world. Subsequent reports will be published monthly, Mechling said.


The first study is called, "Imperative #1: Focus on How IT Can Reshape Work and Public Sector Strategies."


An overview of the eight imperatives, which was published in March, was sent to more than 1,000 candidates for state and national elections this year, said Scott Howell, a Utah state senator and policy group member.


"It was appropriate that Harvard undertake the study," said Steve Kolodney, Washington state chief information officer. "Leaders will listen to what Harvard says.


Among the study's other recommendations for government leaders tackling IT projects are: develop a personal network of advisors; find external support and advocates; show how IT can add value; and pursue investments that scale up infrastructure, standards and cross-organizational opportunities.


The policy group's work is supported by American Management Systems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and IBM Corp.'s Institute for Electronic Government.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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