The value of collaboration is one I’ve always embraced, but its importance was brought home to me all over again during a panel discussion I moderated at ACT/IAC’s Imagine Nation ELC 2018 in Philadelphia. The topic was driving cross-federal efficiency through the President’s Management Agenda (PMA), which entails a lot of working together within and between agencies.
The three panelists were: Margie Graves, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) deputy CIO; Dan Pomeroy, deputy associate administrator at the General Services Administration (GSA); and Courtney Anderson, electronic records policy analyst at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Each of them had stories about how collaboration enabled solutions to problems that might otherwise have been impossible to address adequately.
Dan, for example, recalled a recent effort to improve the calculation of return on investment for federal data centers. It was important that the new methodology not contradict the Technology Business Management (TBM) principles that government is increasingly using. By inviting GSA’s TBM team to join the effort, the agency was able to develop a new methodology that worked well with TBM.
At NARA, the Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative—an ongoing effort to develop a set of standardized and interoperable records management solutions the entire federal government can use—includes a working group of as many agencies as NARA can persuade to take part, Courtney told the audience. The group is looking at use cases for text messages, social media, websites and other emerging forms of electronic records.
Margie, recalling previous positions as deputy CIO and acting CIO at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said that in the course of developing a cargo screening protocol, her team had to examine every related system, at DHS and other agencies, including the departments of State and Justice. This degree of collaboration across multiple agencies is increasingly necessary.
Margie, as the OMB deputy CIO, currently is driving government-wide change in the NewPay program, a $2.5 billion blanket purchase agreement GSA recently issued to revamp agency pay systems. The goal is to streamline payroll services across government, aligning with PMA Cross-Agency Priority Goal 5, which will require widespread collaboration between industry and government to accomplish. CGI is on one of the two teams of industry partners created by NewPay.
Dan added that getting complex projects done requires acting as the interlocutor between multiple players. “If we weren’t collaborating, we weren’t successful,” he said.
However, he also offered a cautionary note: Within a federal agency (or any organization), there often is a push/pull dynamic between people in different roles. Some people are charged with ensuring the organization carries out its mission, while others are concerned with modernizing the enabling technology and reinventing business processes to take advantage of new efficiencies afforded by innovation. It’s important to bring all diverse points of view together early so no one feels that a change is being forced upon them.
Look at the business and mission spaces within an organization as a continuum rather than opposing forces, Margie advised. Leadership is a leap of faith, she said; a leader in a collaborative environment has to trust the various players to bring their best efforts and ideas, and to act in good faith.
“Getting people in a room and asking them what they can bring to the equation is an invigorating experience,” she added, echoing my own beliefs about the importance of face-to-face, real-time conversation. Break your collaborative efforts out of the cycle of email by bringing everyone together in a room, face to face.
Collaboration isn’t just the buzzword du jour; it’s a necessary strategy for success, in business or in public service. This applies both within and between federal agencies, and with other organizations as well.
For more reflections on some of the innovation and transformation messages heard at Imagine Nation, read this post by Michael Hardy, CGI Federal’s Digital Communications Content Lead.