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IT strategy: 4 things you can learn from the U.S. government (yes, the U.S. government)

The U.S. chief information officer, Steven VanRoekel, described his vision for information technology in a recent speech. This vision includes ideas such as “Shared First”, which looks for opportunities to shift to commodity IT and build on existing investments rather than re-inventing the wheel, and “Future First” which encourages the use of new technologies such as XML, web services and virtualization.


As I read the text of VanRoekel’s speech, I was interested to see the similarities between an IT strategy for the U. S. government, and the sort of IT strategies that HP helps our customers to develop. An effective IT strategy is not just about technology and architectures.   It should also include at least the following four elements, each of which VanRoekel covered in his speech:


1. Establish your vision and mission to help ensure that everyone is working towards common targets. When I work with my customers, we start by making sure that all the stakeholders have a shared vision and understanding of what kind of IT service provider they want to be and what experience they want their customers to have. Early in his speech, VanRoekel says “The American people expect us to use technology to provide the same level of service they experience in their everyday lives. They pay bills online and buy plane tickets on smartphones.  And it’s not just the millennial generation – with 80-year olds now using Facebook to keep in touch with grandchildren across the country - expectations have reached a critical point even faster than anticipated.”


2. Include an overall investment strategy to help make decisions about when and where to spend money. VanRoekel says “…more than half of the Fortune 500 companies were founded during an economic downturn… In tough times, visionaries and risk-takers can tap into underutilized human capital, technology, information and other resources, picking up the pieces to reassemble them into something completely new” and “…we need to embrace modular development, build on open standards, and run our projects in lean startup mode. We also need to work with Congress to change our approach to funding technology to better support these principles”


3. Make sure you have measureable objectives and critical success factors to help focus attention on what needs to be done. VanRoekel sets out very clear objectives and critical success factors, including “…lower barriers to citizen and business interaction with the government”, “bolstering cyber security”, “rooting out waste and duplication across the federal IT portfolio”, “smart telework policies that give our employees increased flexibility while also reducing our real estate footprint”, and “shift away from a paper-based mindset and focus on delivering information efficiently and effectively using digital tools”


4. Give clear guidelines for the technology direction. In the context of these high level strategic ideas, he then goes on to describe his “Shared First” and “Future First” initiatives, which are focused on the technology and architectures needed to deliver the strategy.


Many people think of HP as a technology company, and we certainly have comprehensive services that can help our customers to implement their “Future First” initiatives. These services cover every possible aspect of technology and architecture from development of cloud services, virtualization projects, servers and storage, to design and build of energy efficient data centres. If you are thinking about your IT strategy, then HP also has a comprehensive set of strategic service management consulting services that can help you to define your vision and mission, evaluate and refresh your service portfolio, analyse your capabilities or develop the capabilities you need to deliver your vision. Learn how HP Consulting Services can help.


For more info about me and what I can do for your organization, see my profile at our Technology Services Experts page.

Kilvon | ‎11-15-2011 02:39 PM

An organization (even like US government) needs a specific and unique strategy to manage its valuable assets, in this case it's shared first +  future first, once a proper way to manage the portfolio has been established, that vision could be realized.

Joe Albano | ‎11-15-2011 04:23 PM

I think you raise some important points here. We have some amazing technology available and are certainly in a position to provide our clients with industry-leading capabilities. The difficulty is in aligning and shifting the organization to the “new model of work”. Success in this space requires a new level of transformational capabilities.


First, there is the issue of a clear, compelling, and unified vision. This requires specific focus and attention among the senior leadership team. Unfortunately, this step rarely gets the time and attention it needs.


Second, leaders might be well served if they consider their own role in the change. What are the experience, beliefs, habits, and so on that they bring to the organization? How does the “way that they do things” support and hinder the change?


Next are the areas of organization and work design. What is the work of the new organization? How will this work be integrated with the “commodity capabilities” you wrote about?


Finally there are concerns about organizational change management or management of change. How will we make sure that the organization not only has the right skills in the right place at the right time in the right quantities but how will we deal with shifts in skill requirements over shorter and shorter time horizons?


Fortunately there are proven techniques for dealing with all of these challenges and HP has skills that can address all of the “soft” factors I mention above. The challenge seems to be helping our clients understand that we are a complete consulting solution – not just a technology contractor.

Stuart_Rance | ‎11-16-2011 01:30 PM



Thanks for your response. There is one area of strategy that we usually work on with our customers before we consider the technologies and capabilities that they need, and this is their service portfolio. It is really important to analyze a service portfolio based on a real understanding of the outcomes your customers need, and how your services help them to create this value.


I guess Steven VanRoekel was creating a strategy at a higher level than this, and the service portfolio will come from work done by individual departments.

Stuart_Rance | ‎11-16-2011 01:34 PM



You really have hit the nail on the head. Documenting the strategy that you want to implement is the easy part, compared to the work needed to take the whole organization on that strategic journey with you.


I really enjoy working with organizations that understand how turning a great strategy into reality will give them long term competitive advantages.These are the organizations that invest in their future, instead of trying to cut their way to increased profitability.

Joe Albano | ‎11-16-2011 03:09 PM

Stuart –


I hear the short-term profitability vs. long-term investment argument a lot form clients and I’m beginning to wonder if it a bit of a false dichotomy. As the market demands more complex solutions (longer and more expensive to implement) with sorter useful lives (increasing rates of market change) it is increasingly important for organizations to be able to change quickly (agility).


I think the real dichotomy is does management want to continue to hold onto principles that feels comfortable with, but knows is decreasing in effectiveness (cost cutting and other short-term approaches), or does it want to build new, market-differentiating capabilities (agility)?

Stuart_Rance | ‎11-16-2011 03:37 PM



This almost takes us full circle to Steven VanRoekel's ideas about Shared First and Future First. Some of the IT investments that IT organizations are making now will give them much more flexible infrastructure and lay the foundations for much greater levels of agility. Sadly this won't provide any extra value for their customers unless they also develop all the other aspects of their IT strategy, just as the U.S. government appears to be doing.

Mark Wilkinson | ‎11-17-2011 12:15 PM

When the US Government starts articulating their vision in this way it indicates that commodity IT and the use of new technologies such as XML, web services and virtualization have entered the mainstream.  This means that the pressure for organisations/companies to undertake the same transformation is increasing in order not to lose competitive advantage.

Stuart_Rance | ‎11-18-2011 11:36 AM



Most of the comments I have seen on Van Roekel's speech have focussed on the use of new technologies. I agree that this is important, but I was much more impressed with the overall rounded approach to IT strategy.


Some IT service providers implement lots of new technology without understanding what they are going to do that is special, how their customers will see them as distinctive, and how they will use the technology to really create value for their customers. Other service providers create an overall strategy and use the technology to help them achieve their mission and vision, and these are the ones who will still be in business in a few years time.


JoshuaBrusse | ‎11-21-2011 06:26 AM
Hi Stuart Nice article. I would like to add that HP has capabilities to not only develop a strategy but also assist build an IT organization that can deliver this strategy. As we all know – and what was more or less said by Steven – is that IT organization will have to deliver information everywhere, every time, on many different devices while at the same time their supply model becomes increasingly divers. So it’s HP “Instant On” strategy translated in a Hybrid Delivery (Operating) Model. HP Software has capabilities to support this demand with their Service Integration and Management (SIAM) reference model and methods and our HP Performance Suite (our ERP for IT).
Stuart_Rance | ‎11-22-2011 05:31 PM



Thank you for your insights. It is certainly true that HP can provide all the different layers needed to successfully implement an IT strategy.


I think it is very important to help our customers understand that they need to start with an overall IT strategy, like the U.S. government, rather than starting with a technology strategy such as cloud or XML

David Cannon | ‎12-08-2011 07:26 PM

So we can conclude that an overall reduction in expenditure will require an investment in IT?  It's good to see that organizations recognize that IT is not just a cost center that has to be reduced, but an enabler.  Each level of improvement in efficiency and effectiveness will mean that IT has to change - and that is going to cost money.  I am really glad to see this approach being used rather than the more common one - "IT is a huge cost - just cut that cost and the business will automatically be more efficient" .  This is short sighted and it doesn't work.

Stuart_Rance ‎12-09-2011 02:11 PM - edited ‎12-09-2011 02:12 PM



I suspect that your reply was really a comment on the sequel to this article, IT Strategy: 3 more things you can learn from the U.S. Government.


I do agree that investing in improved efficiency and effectiveness is the best way for any organization to cut costs.

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I help clients use service management to create business value for themselves and their customers. I am a senior ITIL examiner and I have wr...

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