On Barriers to Adopting New Technologies

Interesting story in the Washington Post describing a survey of federal government technology managers.

The big takeaway from this survey seems to be that the majority of IT managers are enthusiastic about new technology and can see how it helps them do their jobs more effectively, but they question the government’s ability to keep pace with the private sector.

More specifically:

“[W]hen asked for their views on whether the government’s often-cumbersome acquisition process is enabling agencies to buy digital products they need when they need them, the vast majority said the process is too slow and burdened with [a litany] of government requirements.”

No great shocker there, but this survey helps us to think more clearly about barriers to technology adoption in government (and I don’t just mean the federal government). It can be tempting to attribute the public sector’s struggle to adopt new technology as a symptom of a larger disfunction. Big, lumbering bureaucracies; employees that don’t get it – all that. Many observers do this.

But the largest barriers to adopting new technology in government are structural. The problem is very specific – the processes that public sector organizations use to budget for technology and acquire it are a lousy match for the way that technology works and how it can rapidly change over time.

Governments are not bad at adopting new technologies on accident or because of some vague disfunction internet in large organizations. The processes that support the adoption of new technology in government were built to fail.

Understanding this is the first step to fixing the problem.

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