In spring 2014, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) faced a crisis. That April, the national media had begun reporting on allegations of long wait times and false record keeping at VA medical facilities across the country. The coverage resulted in Congressional hearings as well as separate investigations by the FBI, the White House, and VA’s Inspector General that confirmed many of the allegations and led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in late May. The problems facing VA stemmed in part from the agency’s dependence on outdated legacy systems, variance in veteran outcomes across the enterprise, and its failure to keep pace with technological change.
During six years as a senior executive at Gateway, including one year as the computer manufacturer’s CEO, Rick Snyder came to appreciate the central role that computers and Information Technology (IT) play in peoples’ lives and the economy. Soon after becoming the governor of Michigan in January 2011, Snyder realized that the state had a long way to go to establish a strong IT-citizen interface.
At the turn of the 21st century, The Stanley Works (Stanley) appeared to be in excellent position. Founded in the mid-19th century as a small family business, the firm—which specialized in hand tools for the construction industry—had blossomed into a multi-national company with approximately $2.7 billion in annual revenue. Nonetheless, Stanley officials feared that the firm was not positioned to thrive in the next century.
In 2005, the National Cash Register Corporation (NCR) stood at a crossroads. Founded in the late nineteenth century and famous for having invented the mechanical cash register, the firm had become a leader in manufacturing hardware to process financial transactions and a significant player in the data warehousing market. Unfortunately, at the turn of the 21st century, the firm’s competitive advantage was eroding—quickly.
In late 2013, Accenture was at an inflection point. Throughout most of its history, the firm had functioned as a consultancy. By then, however, it had evolved into a multi-dimensional business with wings devoted to consulting, strategy, technology, and operations. Accenture’s diversification forced the entire company to evolve, but it created particularly acute pressure for the finance division to adapt.
In September 2011, when Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe became the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MET), he faced significant challenges. The agency had had five commissioners in the previous seven years, a spate of discontinuity that had interfered with the development and pursuit of a coherent vision. Making matters more difficult, the agency had to recover quickly because in less than one year, London would host the 2012 Olympics—an event that would place the city on the world’s biggest stage and test the MET’s security and event management capabilities.
Hogan-Howe not only helped London to navigate the Olympics without incident; five years into his tenure as commissioner, he has made London significantly safer while pursuing transformation at the MET.
In January 2014, when William Bratton began his second stint as Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), he faced a challenge unlike any he had confronted in his 44-year law enforcement career. Although the city’s crime rate was lower than it had been in decades, a survey conducted in spring 2014 revealed that 41 percent of blacks and 31 percent of Hispanics “held a somewhat negative or very negative view of the police.” Since then, the department has employed a multi-pronged strategy—highlighted by an increase in community policing, expanded trainings, and a wider embrace of modern technology—to continue keeping New Yorkers safe while restoring trust.
On March 24, 2014, Nóirín O'Sullivan got the call: senior Irish officials wanted to know if she would become the Interim Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s national police force. Most long-time law enforcement officers spend their entire careers preparing for that kind of opportunity, but O’Sullivan, who had joined An Garda Síochána in 1981 and was then serving as the agency’s Deputy Commissioner of Operations, knew that the agency’s next leader would face enormous challenges.
In 2012, SPD and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had agreed upon a consent decree mandating that SPD engage in significant reform to curb the “unnecessary and excessive use of force” and address concerns about discriminatory policing. Unfortunately, the initial reports from Monitor Merrick Bobb evaluating SPD’s progress identified further problems, namely “dug-in” resistance and “foot-dragging” within SPD—in other words, a refusal to work collaboratively with DOJ on reform. But Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, her team, city officials, and their partners at DOJ and the Monitoring Team shifted the tide by fostering a climate that prized teamwork.
When David Bray became the CIO of the FCC in 2013, the IT division was at a crossroads. The group employed more than 200 legacy IT systems, forcing it to devote over 85 percent of its budget to operations and maintenance. Making matters worse, the FCC had had nine CIOs in the previous eight years alone...