Molly O'Neill, CGI Federal

Molly O'Neill


Federal leaders, we get it—you’re busy. Delivering on the mission, running the daily operations of your agency’s technology portfolio—the business of government is time-consuming. Between all the meetings, you hardly have time for lunch. Where can you find the time to focus on innovation?

Enterprise governance may be the key to infusing innovation into your organizational DNA. Governance focuses on aligning operations across the agency. Traditionally, you may think of governance from the perspective of guardrails—increasing alignment, promoting transparency, mitigating risk. However, governance—particularly enterprise-wide governance—is critical to your innovation strategy.

It is said that innovation is best when identified from the factory floor; I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. However, I contend that to achieve even greater results, organizations must govern innovation at the enterprise level. When agency leaders take an enterprise view toward innovation, they can identify commonalities, solve interrelated problems across organizational lines, and deliver not only higher return on investment from a financial perspective but – even more importantly – from a mission perspective.

How many of us have seen a program or office innovate through use of emerging technology, only to run aground of existing enterprise policies? Receiving a firm “no” when attempting to move an innovation to production can prove not only costly but also discouraging and frustrating – all of which undermine the desire to instill a culture of innovation across the agency.

Enterprise governance engages the appropriate stakeholders early and often so there are few surprises in the end. It helps the agency get to “yes” by averting missteps before they can derail the effort.

Innovation and enterprise governance—the perfect pair

It is time to evolve our thinking around enterprise governance—particularly enterprise IT governance—from not just guardrails but to an engine for innovation. If structured correctly, existing enterprise governance boards can serve as ideal bodies for driving innovation across the agency.

From my perspective, every enterprise IT governance board must have a mechanism to intake innovation ideas from across the agency. With the insights of mission and technology leaders, empowered to make decisions, your enterprise IT governance board can assess ideas and identify commonalities.

Thinking holistically across use cases and value chains, the enterprise IT governance board can sandbox technologies or institute pilot projects focusing on one or more use cases. They can make informed decisions, conscious of policy impacts, and advise on investments in new technologies that might be introduced into the agency architecture—all with a full view of total cost of ownership (including costs associated with policy changes, where warranted).

Infusing innovation into your current governance models

Wrapping governance around innovation ensures that your organization assesses and incorporates new technologies systematically. To get started, analyze your current state. Most likely, your organization already has an enterprise IT governance program; but is there a framework in place to infuse innovation? Is there a cadence of discussions on the topic of innovation? Are the right people involved?

Ideally, your enterprise IT governance board is already comprised of both mission-knowledgeable and technology-savvy leaders who are empowered to make decisions. The members should also be people who inspire excitement and foster a culture of innovation. If so, this body is prime to focus on innovation as a structured program. If not, you need to assess your enterprise IT governance gaps and adjust accordingly.

Over the past decade and a half, since I left my role as an agency CIO, I’ve seen positive changes in terms of innovation across the federal landscape. In general, federal agencies seem less risk averse. Still, starting small, with sandboxed tests or pilot projects, remains the wisest way to implement new technologies. You can scale up successful projects, while failures will have minimal effect.

Our experience with agile tells us that “failing fast” is ideal for making informed decisions on innovation investments. Do we have a mechanism to fail fast at the enterprise level, or are we still testing out new technologies to address a single business use case? Are the right policies and procedures in place to adopt this technology now, or do we need to make changes? Are we willing to live with the impacts chose policy changes represent? This is where, I contend, enterprise governance is vital.

Innovation—and enterprise governance—the ultimate team sport

Something I learned a long time ago is that everyone has different intentions and goals, but we all want to deliver results. Across the federal landscape, mission and technology leaders continue to align on delivering value to the mission. Innovation helps us get there. Innovation wrapped around a solid governance framework that elevates innovation as an enterprise priority helps us get there faster and with more measurable results.

CGI helps agencies advance innovation across the enterprise through expert consulting and organizational change management. Learn more about our capabilities here.

About this author

Molly O'Neill, CGI Federal

Molly O'Neill


Molly O’Neill supports strategy, capture and thought leadership on key CGI Federal opportunities.