There are all sorts of holy wars in tech: macs vs pcs, UNIX vs Windows, iPhone vs Android, AWS vs OpenStack vs Azure. And that’s just the technology; I won’t even get started on the vendor wars. Sometimes I think we forget the reason we work so hard to understand the best ways to architect, manage, and protect all of these systems is to support the real work that our organizations need to accomplish. To modernize technology is important, but it sometimes leads us to more complications than expected.

I’m fortunate to work for an organization that expects me to talk to IT people about the businesses that they support, so that we can figure out the best way to create our software solutions. These discussions are always a great reminder that more is involved than just the tech. People have to deal with budgets and regulations and end users and silos of IT to build the environments that work best to support the mission of their organizations.

This week I attended Microsoft Envision in New Orleans. This is show the next generation of their Convergence conference. Microsoft has up leveled the show to address business transformation. One interesting session I attended was a panel discussion on transforming IT for the US government. The panel was moderated by Cathilea Robinett of e.Republic, and the members of the panel included Beth Simone Noveck of GovLab, Daniel Pfieffer of GoFundMe, and Jesse Berst of the Smart Cities Council.  Mr. Pfieffer was the Communications Advisor for President Obama, and was a key player in the healthcare.gov effort.

Looking back, we know the original implementation of healthcare.gov was a colossal failure. Pfieffer talked about and what it was like to have to resolve the issues of the website under enormous political pressure. He said that healthcare.gov failed the first time because it was developed in the traditional IT method the government has always used. The website itself was an enormous IT challenge: records from several silo’ed government agencies had to be accessed, along with the information from the health care providers. Privacy was paramount, and there were compliance regulations that had to be considered as well. And did I mention the political pressure?

Because the team was under so much pressure to fix the website, they recruited top talent from Silicon Valley to help. Some of the talent has stayed and is looking to modernize technology our federal government. The purpose of President Obama’s visit to SXSW this year was to recruit some of us to help our government with this effort. The government has also started to look at bringing talent that already exists in agency silos, and redeploying those folks to work on the IT transformation process.

Stories like this remind me that the work we do is really important. Vendors enable transformation with our products. Customers who stay on top of all the new technologies are also driving these changes. However, I realize that the majority of you face the challenge of maintaining old tech while planning for the future, with no extra resources to help you get it done. It is sort of like driving a train while you are still building the tracks.

But, whenever you think you’ve it rough, just remember you could be responsible for fixing a failed website that is the number one domestic policy concern for the President of the United States. Could there be a worse political environment in which to innovate and modernize technology?

[E1]http://www.salon.com/2009/01/13/obama_82/

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