6 IT fads you should warn your customers about

There are many good information technology innovations, but not all the current fads are good for government IT. Some trends are bad in general, and some are very bad for government IT managers in particular. Others are good for some uses but not others. Let’s examine a few of the IT industry fads that make bad matches for government IT, and why they are bad.

1. Cloud computing is a red herring. Chasing this fad now, before standards are in place and security concerns are dealt with, is a complete waste of time. Also, it still needs to be sorted out whether cloud computing is primarily a utility-based hosting solution, a new application-development model, or both. Although Web 2.0 start-ups can afford the risk associated with these desired IT cost savings, the government should take a wait-and-see attitude.

2. Web 2.0 is not pixie dust. Anyone who has witnessed a crazed mob of sports fans on an alcohol-induced rampage would agree that crowds are not always wise. In the same way, Web 2.0 technologies are not a panacea nor should they be the No. 1 priority for government IT. Web 2.0 should be relegated to areas that tap its strength, which is primarily nonattributed commentary and workgroup collaboration.

3. Agile development is a programmer’s fantasy and a manager’s nightmare. In my more than 20 years of software development experience, I have never met a government program manager who is available on a daily or even weekly basis to help design an application on the fly. Extreme iteration and pair programming are almost exclusively programmer perks and not in the best interests of government IT. Please don’t build the next space shuttle that way.

4. Data standards cannot be market-driven. Although the government sponsors many emerging marketplaces, such as green energy, a standards marketplace should not be one of them. I have said this many times before, and I will now say it again: Data standards are not amenable to competition. Instead, government data standardization should be seen as one of those “inherently governmental” activities. Stay away from any standards development organization with a business plan.

5. Service-oriented architecture has not yet convincingly addressed older applications. SOA is absolutely the right approach for new application development, but its Achilles’ heel is its failure to come up with a workable transition strategy for existing applications. Thus, SOA pilots get pigeonholed into a “nice dream” limbo or a “maybe someday” wistfulness. Finally, the coarse-grained “just wrap it” approach rings hollow when the devil delivers the details.

6. Web application development is still a kludge. Although the Google Chrome operating system steals headlines and Twitter changes the face of Iran, Web applications are still an uncomfortable amalgam of at least a half-dozen technologies cobbled together into an ugly patchwork. Fortunately, this is the underbelly of the Web that the users don’t see. They just taste the sizzling sausage that comes out of the ugly sausage factory, which conceals the cross-browser nightmare of HTML, JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets, Extensible Application Markup Language, Extensible Markup Language User Interface Language, Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, and numerous server-side options. And that does not even include Rich Internet Application technologies such as Silverlight, Flex and JavaFX. The messy reality here is that, although your next enterprise application should be Web-based, government IT managers must be careful to keep their critical path to well-trodden ground and limit their Web application design to the minimal number of technology hand offs.

The key to understanding these six warnings is to understand that government IT operates as a mission multiplier and not as a cost center. Just as there are inherently governmental business functions, there are inherently governmental IT practices. Government can no longer dictate the IT landscape — as evidenced by the failure of Ada — but government IT managers must still be keenly aware of the unique requirements for government IT systems. The latest IT fad might be well-suited for businesses but ill-suited for the government.

About the Author

Michael C. Daconta (mdaconta@incadencecorp.com) is the Vice President of Advanced Technology at InCadence Strategic Solutions and the former Metadata Program Manager for the Homeland Security Department. His new book is entitled, The Great Cloud Migration: Your Roadmap to Cloud Computing, Big Data and Linked Data.

Reader Comments

Mon, Aug 17, 2009 brian s washington dc

Perhaps Cloud Computing is labeled Cloud Computing because it is exactly that, Vapor Ware. If you have been in IT for a while you may see this as the rebranding of the dot com days of the ASP (Application Service Provider), which then became MSP (Manager Service Provider), which then became SaaS, and now is morphed in to its current brand, Cloud Computing. These solutions do have some value in limited instances, however, as applied across the Federal market, it is hardly a viable market wide solution. Cloud computing will ultimately be rebranded once marketing managers realize it is doing little to sell their product.

Thu, Aug 13, 2009 Bill Perlowitz Chantilly, VA

This article should be re-titled “6 Concepts I Can’t Figure Out How to Make Work in Government.” The author states that “government operates as a mission multiplier and not a cost center” and uses this as justification for stifling innovation and perpetuating the status quo across government IT. It is obvious to anyone working in this space that current methods for developing, integrating, and maintaining systems are not sustainable, and advances are required if the Government, the largest single developer and consumer of IT, is to remain responsive to their constituency and competitive in the world marketplace. By publishing this as “news” rather than opinion, WT has validated for pundits that a natural progression of technology, Cloud Computing, is a “complete waste of time” and by analogy, that the progress proposed and forwarded by government innovators such as Chopra, Kundra, Paul, and Coleman is a “fad” that is “very bad for government IT managers.” If the author wishes to maintain antiquated processes and develop software using requirements and delivery methods that do not remain synchronized with the user over the development lifecycle then that is between him and his clients; the vast majority of us welcome innovation, work within the regulations, and work to change the regulations to continually improve cost efficiency, service delivery, and user experience to our stakeholders. Implementing new techniques and technologies is never easy, but simply waving your hands and saying these are “ill-suited for government” because there are challenges provides no useful information to us and is of no benefit to anyone.

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