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GSA Future Focus: IT Innovation

Updates from General Service Administration’s (GSA) Emerging Technology office.

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This is part of a monthly series of posts from GSA’s Emerging Technology Office. It explores possible policy stances for the US Government and seeks input from other agencies and the public. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these blogs are not official federal guidance. 

Creating a Successful IT Innovation Program

Many IT policies are created to reduce risk and save taxpayer dollars by using tested technologies. However, using tested technologies only often comes at the expense of adopting emerging technologies. This plan also introduces longer-term risks and costs from technology obsolescence. 

Federal IT innovation programs can improve mission effectiveness and also reduce long-term risk and cost. Creating an IT innovation program for your agency will allow it to: 

  • Test new technologies, 
  • Create proofs of concept, 
  • Safely explore new technologies, and 
  • Better use limited resources. 

Innovation requires short-term risk. A federal innovation program will help agencies navigate these risks to try new IT projects. Innovation projects may fail, but better they do so during proof-of-concept rather than in production. Based on data from pilot agencies, the benefits of successful projects will massively outweigh the costs of unsuccessful ones. 

We recommend each of the 24 Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Act agencies create a federal IT innovation program. They routinely demonstrate high ROIs and improve organizational operations. Also, we encourage smaller agencies and sub-agencies to create IT innovation programs, if feasible. 

What Other Federal IT Innovation Programs Exist?

Federal IT innovation programs can help reduce operational costs and improve mission delivery. While they can be structured in several ways, agencies will need to fund and staff an IT Innovation Program. 

This blog post explains what agencies need to do to implement their program. It also lists best practices to new and/or existing programs.

Each agency’s IT innovation program requires support from leadership, must have high visibility, and, by definition, must be disruptive and entrepreneurial.

Team members

Designate innovation program leadership members to provide oversight:

  • A senior leader (C-suite) who reports to the agency head, represents the organization at the leadership level, reacts decisively in the midst of changing environments, and alleviates concerns in Congress.
  • A director who’s responsible for providing high-level leadership and technical direction.
  • One or more project managers to provide project-level support and daily operational support.

So let’s make IT innovation programs succeed and benefit the federal government, share lessons learned from successes, failures, and metrics to ensure mutual learning and prevent needless reinvention.

Team skills

Each team will need key skills in emerging technology, research and development, and law. Each team will need these skills to increase its ROI.

Here are the the desired skills:

  • Budget and contracting experience
  • Cloud engineering
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data science
  • Human factors engineering
  • Intellectual property expertise
  • Mobile development
  • Research
  • Software development
  • Systems administration

Our Advice 

Create an IT innovation program (if your agency doesn’t already exist) to improve internal operations and adopt emerging technologies more quickly. 

  • Identify an IT innovation program director and one or more project managers.
  • The innovation program director should report directly to agency senior leadership such as the CIO or a similar C-level executive. 
  • Fund the program to support purchasing/usage of servers, cloud computing, mobile devices, and other relevant software and hardware.
  • Create an evaluation plan and establish metrics on ROI, organizational capability, and leadership to stay on track. 
    • Examples of innovation program success metrics may include cost savings/avoidance, number of patents, resources saved, number of new products/services launched in the last year, and percentage of leadership time spent on strategic innovation.

About Us

GSA’s Emerging Technology office helps make proactive federal policy. We explore how new technologies affect federal agencies and recommend ways the federal government can adapt to them.

What do you think about our recommendations? Let us know by using the hashtag #FutureFocus on social media or email us at futurefocus@gsa.gov!

Last Reviewed: 2021-08-20