Monday's Boston Globe had an Op-Ed by Melissa Threadgill, a former State House staffer and current student at the Kennedy School of Government, about the inherent flaws in the government technology acquisition process. Based on my experience and observations, I can say that Threadgill knows what she's talking about.
She identifies two fundamental flaws. The first involves the funding mechanism for IT. Rather than including adequate amounts for ongoing improvements and upgrades in annual budgets, government agencies rely on Information Technology bonds to fund major projects. While this approach might work well for building bridges and roads, it is a poor way to acquire technology. Having a large amount of one-time funds leads to overly complex systems that take too long to design, too long to build, and too long to deploy. When it comes to technology and its speedy evolution, this approach to acquisition frequently renders the new application obsolete by the time it is first deployed.
The other flaw in the governmental process is that the complexity of purchasing procedures creates a preference for large established firms that have the contacts, bureaucratic experience, and overhead to navigate the system. The actual product often takes a back seat to the process and the governmental entity and its users are left with an application that struggles with critical tasks while being burdened with unneeded functionality.
Whatever complaints may exist about the registry of deeds computer system, at least it works unlike so many new governmental applications that are being rolled out these days. One reason for that is that the registry system has in many ways been a bottom up process that incorporates necessary functions. As we begin contemplating our next computer system, hopefully we will be able to pursue a flexible path that provides us with the system we need and the ability to adapt it to rapid changes in technology.