Category Archives: CIO

US federal CIO points to greater consolidation of government email systems

By David Bicknell

It is interesting to see how the US Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel is pushing US departments to rationalise their email systems.

The Labour Department is the latest to be earmarked for email consolidation with seven contracts for separate email systems set to be shrunk down to one, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The federal government needs to eliminate duplication to save dollars but also to free up time and resources in agencies’ acquisition offices so more effort can be put into transformative information technology projects, VanRoekel told the recent Congressional Forum on Technology.

“There’s an effort under way to start to look at how many [information technology] systems people are running in these agencies,” he said. “How many email systems? At the Department of Labor there are seven. There’s an opportunity there to save money.”

VanRoekel pointed to rationalisation success at other departments. Three years ago, he suggested, the Agriculture Department was managing 21 email contracts and 1,000 mobile contracts to implement primarily a BlackBerry service.

The department reduced those numbers to one and three respectively. The new email system cost one-third as much as the systems that had been in place, and the mobile computing blanket purchasing agreements saved Agriculture 18 percent from its budget

Consolidation efforts also need to be strategic to ensure fair competition among contractors, VanRoekel said.

“Should we go extreme on consolidation, and run one email system? The Canadian government has done this; one email, one procurement system,” he said. “Contemplating how we’d manage that at our scale is one factor. But also, if we the government were to pick the winner, we would do a great disservice to business. We need to strike that balance.”

New York’s new CIO to create centre of excellence to prevent failing IT projects

By David Bicknell

New York’s recent problems with IT projects have been well documented.

Its latest solution: appoint a new CIO, with a wide remit that includes innovation and the setting up of a ‘centre of excellence’  to nail down failing projects.

Rahul Merchant joins with a background served at US mortgage and housing specialist Fannie Mae and at financial services company Merrill Lynch.

He will become the first Citywide Chief Information and Innovation Officer and Commissioner of the Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications reporting to New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg.

His role will involve overseeing New York’s information technology development and management, with a focus on delivering technology projects on-time and on-budget.

Merchant will succeed Carole Post, who recently announced she will be leaving for a position at New York Law School.

“By bringing the City’s IT infrastructure and development under one office, we can ensure we are using best practices across agencies, leveraging the City’s enormous IT infrastructure to our maximum advantage and holding contractors accountable for delivering results,” said Bloomberg. “Rahul is a seasoned executive who has proven himself time and again as a leader and an innovator in the industry.  He is going to do an outstanding job as New York City’s first Chief Information and Innovation Officer and we are excited to add him to our talented team.”

Merchant will be responsible for New York City’s IT infrastructure, as well as oversight of the implementation of key technology initiatives that enable the City’s various agencies to serve 8.4 million New Yorkers.

What will be worth watching is seeing how he tackles New York’s reputation for troubled IT projects by creating a Centre of Excellence that will  “standardise business processes for the implementation of large technology projects, institute a system of vendor evaluation to hold contractors accountable for meeting project milestones, and update the City’s technology contracts to focus on the delivery of established milestones to meet agency business needs.”

According to Bloomberg, Merchant will work closely with agency commissioners and chief information officers “to ensure that IT projects leverage existing infrastructure and software to the maximum possible extent, and that the City’s overall IT budget meets core agency business needs and the City’s overall technology objectives.”

He will also spearhead the New York’s efforts to remain a leader in technology innovation, by leveraging its  technology assets and partnerships with academic institutions, technology firms, and entrepreneurs.

He won’t be short of people to help. Merchant will lead a 1,200-strong staff responsible for managing the City’s information technology infrastructure as well as serving the information technology needs of 45 mayoral agencies, dozens of other governmental entities, and nearly 300,000 employees.

Here’s how local sites reported Merchant’s appointment:

Crain’s New York Business: Major taps Merrill Lynch vet to tame tech projects

Tech President: New York City just radically changed who manages its IT projects

Government Technology: NYC names Rahul Merchant to CIO and Innovation role

New York’s CTO to leave as row deepens over city’s handling of IT projects

By David Bicknell

New York, New York (So Good They Named It Twice) – as the song goes -though not so good at delivering successful IT projects, it would seem.

According to The New York Times, the city’s chief technology official Carol Post has resigned after clashing with a deputy mayor over the management of several costly, ambitious IT projects.

According to the newspaper, city government spokespeople said Ms. Post, who is the commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, should not be blamed for the mismanagement of the $2.3 billion 911 project, whose problems predated her arrival in the job. She is reported to be leaving to take up a new position at the New York Law School. 

Post’s departure  was announced a day before New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg said the city would challenge a judge’s order to release a report by consultants McKinsey on an overbudget, much-delayed modernisation of the city’s 911 emergency calls and dispatching system.

According to The New York Times story, concerns have been expressed about the cost of an upgrade to CityNet, the city’s internal data network; there are continuing problems and shortcomings with CitiServ, a data centre that was supposed to consolidate dozens of city agency servers; and a shortage of users for NYCWin, a secure municipal wireless network.

The wireless network cost $500 million to build and a further $40 million a year to operate, and is underused and arguably outdated.

CityNet has experienced interruptions in service, despite a system of redundant fiber optic rings intended to enable it to withstand a breakdown. The $95 million CitiServ project is reported to have confounded agency officials, with the technology department, DoITT, struggling to migrate old systems into the new data centre.

“The technology department is officially referred to by its acronym, DoITT, but is sometimes derided as “Don’t Do It” by city workers who seek to avoid working with the department,” The New York Times said.

Of Post’s departure, Bloomberg said, “Over the past ten years, we have fundamentally transformed the operations of New York City agencies and elevated New Yorkers’ expectations of how efficient, user-friendly and transparent their government should be, and a large part of that is because of the tirelessness and talent of Carole Post. From her work at the Department of Buildings to the Mayor’s Office of Operations to DoITT, Carole has brought agencies together in common cause, finding efficiencies, defining legal strategies and creating collaborations that use taxpayers’ dollars more effectively. There’s nobody better to help a great institution like New York Law School climb to new heights, and though I’m very disappointed to see her go, I wish her well in tackling this new challenge.”

NY’s CTO Resigns, As Some Question Bloomberg’s Handling of City’s Tech Projects

New York’s emergency call IT project: just seven years behind schedule and $1bn overbudget

Home Office’s IT Director McDonagh to take over Chant role at G-Cloud

By David Bicknell

Denise McDonagh, currently director of IT at the Home Office, is to take over responsibility for G-Cloud from Chris Chant who leaves at the end of the month.

In this announcement, as well as discussing McDonagh’s role as Chant’s replacement on G-Cloud, the government said that it is on track to launch the next iteration of the G-Cloud framework in late or early May.  It will incorporate a new approach that incorporates the ability to add new suppliers and services on a quarterly (or possibly more frequent) basis.  It suggests that this will be a procurement first in the UK, and possibly even in the world.  Existing G-Cloud suppliers should be able to move to the new framework with just a small amount of effort, it says. A series of new deals on the framework is also set  to be to announced.

Prior to the announcement of his departure, Chant had written a blog post that argued that unnacceptable IT is pervasive.

He suggested that:

“Real progress has been blocked by many things including an absence of capability in both departments and their suppliers, by a strong resistance to change, by the perverse incentives of contracts that mean its cheaper to pay service credits than to fix the problem and by an unwillingness to embrace the potential of newer and smaller players to offer status quo-busting ideas.

“CIOs across government, including me in various roles at the centre of government, have been guilty for too long of taking the easy path.  We have done the unacceptable and thought we were doing a great job.  We have:

  • Signed contracts with single suppliers that have led to both poor service and high costs, because that is the way government did things
  • Failed to let in innovative suppliers because of the constraints of those large contracts, because new suppliers, we figured, brought risk and uncertainty
  • Designed and delivered solutions that look, in today’s world, ridiculously expensive and over-engineered because we thought that was the right thing to do
  • Allowed our users to suffer with IT that is a decade – or more – behind what they are using at home because the security considerations for government are different and stricter from those for everyone else”

But, over the last 18 months, working on G-Cloud as well as the immediate forerunner of the Government Digital Service, Chant said he had seen the real signs of change, with some in the public sector no longer willing to put up with the poor service and delivery that they have experienced and they are actively looking for new ways of working. Notably, he suggested, big departments openly talk about wanting to get away from the traditional model of big, cumbersome IT and are serious.

Now, he went on, things get harder, notably:

Managing Multiple Suppliers

  • Departments are no longer going to have an easy ride as they seek to extend an existing contract or renew what they have now (a large single supplier monopoly over their IT).   They’re going to be pushed to break up contracts into smaller pieces, contract with or involve more SMEs and reuse what is already in place elsewhere.    There is no better place to start than by getting something you already have, or something that you need to have, from the G-Cloud framework. CIOs will need to increase the capability of their teams – and their own capability too – otherwise they will find that they are no longer playing a part in this new approach.  Some CIOs and some teams will not be able to make that transition.

Apples With Apples

  • For years, obtaining data about what government pays for IT and, worse, what it gets for that money has been mission impossible.  With transparency, increasing use of frameworks and smaller contracts, it will be easier than it has ever been to compare like for like costs across departments. CIOs will want to get ahead of that curve now and find out what their IT is truly costing them so that they can compare what new market offers really provide and whether it is worth making an early switch – and the pressure to make that switch before the end of the contract is only likely to increase as the true size of cost reductions becomes evident.

Digital By Default

  • The need to design services around the customer will become pervasive -whether that customer is a citizen in front of a web browser at home or one of our own staff working in an office.  The shift to “digital by default” (rather than “digital as well”) is fundamental and will cause a wholesale upheaval in organisations across government.   People who thought they were in charge of delivering transactions probably won’t be. People who are on the inside of government might find themselves moved to the outside and entirely new product offers will come about as a result.

IT in government has certainly come a long way, he insisted, but added that “..it just hasn’t come far enough.  It remains unacceptable.  The trends of the last couple of years – transparency, open data, open services, SMEs – aren’t going away; if anything, they will go stronger and bed in deeper.”

What needs to happen next, Chant said, is that:

  • CIOs across government need to recognise what has changed and stop hiding behind the comfort blanket of what has always been done before. That blanket is on fire.
  • Big suppliers should see the smoke from that comfort blanket and recognise that the world of government IT has changed.  They can no longer rely on delivering poor service for big money and get away with it.  The customer approach is changing and they will need to change too, or be consumed by the flames.
  • SMEs should embrace the opportunity they now have and bring their capabilities – speed, flexibility and low prices – to the government market.  For the first time, government is ready.

(My Campaign4Change colleague Tony Collins is currently away, but will be back shortly)

G-Cloud chief Chris Chant to retire

Why ignoring the human factor can lead to failed IT projects

By David Bicknell

In a column for the Wall St Journal, Frank Wander, a former CIO of the Guardian Life Insurance Company, has warned that ignoring the human factor is a sure route to the failure of IT projects.

He points out that, “Sixty years into the information economy, information technology projects, especially large ones, still fail, or under-perform, at disheartening rates. Trillions of dollars of collective project experience, and, what long ago, should have become a predictable undertaking, remains an area of dissatisfaction. Yet, the performance of our technology infrastructure (devices, networks, storage) has made quantum leaps forward over that same time period.”

He argues that workers are the most expensive, but least understood tool. In the insurance industry, for example, talent represents 63% of IT cost, according to a 2011 Gartner report.

He concludes: “As an industry, we must remove this blind spot, recruit the best talent, nurture it and unlock the full productivity potential by designing social environments where the chemistry enables IT to flourish. Companies that understand this, and embrace it, will win; the rest will compete in a race to the bottom.”

Shining a light into the darkest corners of wasteful IT projects

By David Bicknell

US federal chief information officer (CIO) Steven VanRoekel is adopting a novel approach to Government IT: innovate with less.

In a piece written for the The White House’s Office of Management and Budget, VanRoekel says he has learned lessons from the private sector on helping government learn private sector best practices, and in particular, how to buy IT.

“These agency successes are a good start, but we need to do more. We still face an unacceptable amount of duplicative and low-value IT.  That is why (we are)…. launching a new tool for agencies to use to assess the current maturity of their IT portfolio management process and make decisions on eliminating duplication across their organisations.

“This tool – which we’re calling “PortfolioStat” – gives agencies tools to look into the darkest corners of the organisation to find wasteful and duplicative IT investments.”

VanRoekel says the efforts are paying off.

“Over the past three years, the Federal Government has done much in adopting private sector practices to triage broken IT investments, reduce the IT infrastructure footprint, and innovate with less.

“For example, at today’s President’s Management Advisory Board meeting, the Department of the Interior showed that by modernising IT infrastructure and aligning resources to improve customer service, they will realise $100 million in savings from 2016 to 2020, for a cumulative total of $500 million. To date, there have been $11 million in cost avoidance by updating the scope of projects and $2.2 million in redirection of funds due to IT Spending Reviews.”

Over the next year, says VanRoekel, agency Deputy Secretaries or Chief Operating Officers (COO), must lead agency-wide IT portfolio reviews within their respective organisations, working in coordination with Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers, and Chief Acquisition Officers.

The level of executive sponsorship, VanRoekel says, “is a direct reflection of our belief that IT is a strategic asset that can dramatically improve productivity and the way agencies execute their mission. By June 15, agencies will complete a high-level survey of agency IT portfolio status and a bureau level information request for specific types of commodity IT investments that will used to baseline the maturity of agency portfolios.

“Then, using the portfolio data gathered combined with other data available at the bureau and agency level, COOs will establish targets for commodity IT spending reductions and deadlines for meeting those targets; illustrate how investments within the IT portfolio align with the agency’s mission and business functions; establish criteria for identifying wasteful, “low-value,” or duplicative investments; and improve governance and program management utilising best practices and, where possible, benchmarks.

“Though this process is new for Federal IT, leading private sector companies have been leveraging improved IT portfolio management tools for some time. Private sector organisations that waste millions on duplicative and low value IT are destined to disappear. Competitive pressure has forced change and efficiency.

“Though there are differences between public and private sector work, my time in both makes me extremely confident that the best practices from a well-run company can be applied effectively to the Federal Government.”

According to Nextgov.com, which reported VanRoekel’s attendance at the  FOSE  2012 conference on government technology,  US federal IT spending grew about 7 percent every year during the decade prior to 2009.

Since President Obama took office amid the 2008 financial crisis, federal IT spending has leveled off at about $80 billion annually.

“I’m proud to say that in the last three years on that flat or declining budget we’ve actually innovated a lot,” VanRoekel said.

Homeland Security Department CIO Richard Spires imposed a 10 percent cut in operations and maintenance spending across the department in the administration’s fiscal 2013 budget request to free up money for new initiatives.

VanRoekel said initiatives to consolidate federal data centres, shift more of the IT budget to cloud computing and a “maniacal focus on rooting out duplication” were allowing agencies to invest in new technologies.

The US Defence Department’s 2013 IT budget request, for instance, is down more than $1 billion, largely because the department cut costs associated with maintaining data centres.

PortfolioStat is an opportunity for CIOs and chief operating officers to look horizontally across an agency and identify places where services can more easily be shared,VanRoekel said.

According to Nextgov’s report, the U.S. Agriculture Department has moved from more than 20 separate email systems to only one cloud-based system during the past year and recently consolidated more than 700 mobile phone contracts into three blanket purchase agreements.

US Chief Information Officers Council

Nextgov.com

IT is from Venus, the Business is from Mars

By David Bicknell

Monday morning and another week for IT and the business to work together in the best interests of the organisation – though if you were to read this article from the Wall St Journal, you might think otherwise.

The  piece, “IT is from Venus, non-IT is from Mars”, by research scientist George Westerman from the MIT Centre for Digital Business, suggests  that in many companies, the relationship between IT and business leaders is a very troubled marriage. Miscommunication is rife, leaving executives struggling to figure out what’s working for the company, what’s not, and how to improve the situation.

The article argues that ‘the marriage’ can be saved, provided IT and business executives have a clearer understanding of the needs of both sides, how they work and the challenges they face. That means business leaders and IT executives must talk with each other about their operations and about how IT can help the company fulfill its goals, instead of talking past each other about how one side or the other is preventing that from happening.

The article cites four separate studies by researchers at MIT that show that transparency—clear communication about IT performance and decision processes—is the best predictor of the business value of IT. These studies all show that transparency creates an environment that improves both IT performance and the IT/Business relationship.

The article discusses four areas where IT and non-IT executives fail to understand each other clearly, and how transparency can help bridge the gap between two completely different interpretations.

On IT Cost and Performance:

The Business says: “IT costs too much; we’re not getting the service we’re paying for.”

IT says: “Given our budget constraints, we’re doing really well.”

On Risk Management:

Business says: “I want it this way.”

IT says: “We can’t do it that way.”

On Prioritisation:

Business says: “I need this right away.”

IT says: “Sure, but three other executives just told me the same thing.”

On Accountability:

Business says: “Why do you make me go through all of this bureaucracy?”

IT says: “Our methodologies are how we make sure everyone does the right thing.”

The article concludes that “creating transparency takes extra time and effort on everyone’s part, especially IT’s. But this is one project that definitely pays. Transparency around performance and decision processes improves the business value of IT and builds trust between business and IT people. As everyone learns to work better together, IT becomes part of the company’s business-level decisions and initiatives, not its own world. When that happens, the marriage of IT and the business side is really working.”

CIO behind FBI’s Agile-developed Sentinel IT project to leave his post

By David Bicknell

The US CIO behind one of the world’s highest profile public sector Agile IT projects is to leave his post and return to the private sector.

Chad Fulgham, CIO at the FBI will leave next month having overseen the creation of the FBI’s Sentinel case management system. Sentinel replaces the FBI’s outdated Automated Case Support system, with the hope that it will transform the way the FBI does business by moving it from a primarily paper-based case management system to an electronic work flow-based management system of record with enhanced data sharing capabilities.

“When I was hired as the CIO, it was understood Sentinel was going to be one of my top priorities,” said Fulgham. “Today, I can tell you the software coding is done, the new hardware is in place, and it has been quite impressive during initial performance testing. We have trained hundreds of FBI special agents and employees, and it will have a lasting impact on this organisation.”

In a press release announcing Fulgham’s departure, the FBI said that “using a progressive Agile software development methodology, partnering with industry, and employing an aggressive deployment schedule, Sentinel is scheduled to be implemented in summer of 2012.”

The US Inspector General recently issued a report into the use of Agile in the Sentinel project. You can read the report here

The US magazine Information Week has also covered the story

Lifting the lid on Agile within a public sector IT project

California’s long-running courts’ IT project faces final verdict

By David Bicknell

If there was one place in the world you’d think might be able to get an IT project to improve courts’ systems right, it would be California, the home of Silicon Valley.

Unfortunately not. According to the San Jose Mercury News, there is a risk of the plug being pulled on a proposed system which was intended to link courts to each other and the state’s Department of Justice, and which would replace paper court files with electronic documents, allowing judges ‘with a click of a mouse’ to check everything from criminal histories to child support payments around the state.

But the 10-year project, which has so far cost $560m is running out of money. And now California, which as a state is strapped for cash, and is imposing budget cuts that are closing courthouses, is ready to pull the plug on the project altogether. 

The state’s Judicial Council, which is the court system’s policy arm, will tomorrow weigh up its options and make a decision whether to continue with the Court Case Management System (CCMS) or end the project.

A state audit last year made a catalogue of complaints against the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts for its lack of lack of oversight. It said that the AOC had: 

  • Inadequately planned for the statewide case management project and did not analyse whether the project would be a cost-beneficial solution to the superior courts’ needs.
  • Was unable to provide contemporaneous analysis and documentation supporting key decisions on the project’s scope and direction.
  • Did not structure the development vendor’s contract to adequately control cost and scope—over the course of seven years, the AOC entered into 102 amendments and increased the cost from $33 million to $310 million.
  • Failed to develop accurate cost estimates—in 2004 the cost estimate was $260 million and by 2010 the estimated cost was $1.9 billion.
  • Had not obtained the funding needed for statewide deployment and without full deployment to the 58 superior courts, the value of the project is diminished.
  • Must gain better support from the superior courts for the project—the superior courts of Los Angeles and Sacramento counties asserted that they will not adopt the system unless their concerns are resolved.
  • Did not contract for independent verification and validation (IV&V) of the statewide case management project until 2004 and independent project oversight services until 2007. The level of IV&V oversight was limited in scope and duration.
  • The statewide case management project may be at substantial risk of future quality problems as a result of the AOC’s failure to address certain of the consulting firm’s concerns.

In a telling quote, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the Judicial Council’s chairwoman,  is reported to have said it may be time to reconsider the project, comparing it to having “a Ferrari in the garage, but we can’t afford the gas.”

The San Jose Mercury News reported that state lawmakers are now growing increasingly sceptical of paying for CCMS, with one committee last week voting unanimously to put most of the system upgrade on hold.

“Eight presiding judges, including those from trial courts in San Francisco, San Mateo and Los Angeles, last week urged the council to pull the plug,” the San Jose Mercury News said. 

When it was first approved more than a decade ago, the project was an ambitious one.  Its goal was to create one unified system for all of California’s trial courts. The upgrade had widespread support, including from the state’s then Governor Gray Davis, and California was flush with cash to pay for the project.

But as the project progressed, its cost increased, and it has since became a ‘lightning rod’ for California judges who have been absorbing more than $600 million in budget cuts over the past three years.

Now, the state wants to cut the judiciary’s losses and find less expensive ways to improve court technology, by, for example, allowing local judges to pick their own IT upgrades.

“Anyone will tell you, if you’re stuck in a hole, stop digging,” said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, a leader in the Alliance of California Judges, a CCMS critic. “We’ve spent 10 years on this project. It needs to be declared dead.”

However, the end of the project is not necessarily a forgone conclusion, proving the old adage that no failing IT project can easily be killed off. Now a separate audit released last week has suggested three more options:

  • Deploy the full CCMS program in one test county, San Luis Obispo, which would cost more than $20 million; or  
  • Install it in 10 counties, including Alameda, Marin and Santa Cruz, and wait for the end of the recession before taking it state-wide; or  
  • End the project now. 

The audit has however pointed out that with or without CCMS, many trial courts need technology upgrades that will cost some amounts of money. And it has projected that, by 2017, CCMS would save the state about $33 million a year by cutting the cost of everything from collecting fines to transferring court files from one county to another.

Florida’s IT projects consolidation continues at a glacial pace

By David Bicknell

US states’ recent history on IT projects has been a rollercoaster ride with more downs than ups.

The State of Florida’s recent experiences have mirrored those of  others. As this article details, Florida’s modernisation and consolidation of its IT systems has had its fair share of headlines.

“The tenures of the first two chief information officers were controversial. Both resigned; afterward, auditors found problems with how contracts and agency finances had been managed. The third CIO cancelled the questionable contracts, but the missteps left a shadow over the agency, and in 2005 the Legislature eliminated its funding.”

As the article points out, for many years,Florida’s individual departmental agencies made their own IT decisions, leaving the state with nearly two dozen data centres, 30 e-mail systems, 200 different IT groups and 150 websites. Bush believed merging those systems and centralising control of IT operations would make government more efficient and allow the state to take advantage of economies of scale.

But the process has been a slow one. Almost glacial. A new Agency for Enterprise Information Technology (AEIT) was set up to handle the consolidation efforts and create IT policy — but it has been restricted in its work, designed to be “a small agency with a small staff with a large mission in our hands,” according to  its CIO David Taylor.

The department, with a staff of just 16 and a budget of $1.6 million, cannot dictate what systems other agencies should use and purchase. Instead, its role is restricted to advising departments on strategies like bulk buying and working with agencies to standardise specifications for equipment to help facilitate volume purchases. The agencies, however, aren’t required to follow AEIT’s advice. And bigger IT targets — core business systems, accounting systems and licensing systems – remain untouched.

Taylor believes that the state would be better served by “one unified IT agency” with some teeth to do something — and he may eventually get his wish.

In December, the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force, a panel that provides cost-cutting strategies to the Legislature, recommended giving the agency budget and procurement authority for “enterprise” projects and services and giving it greater power to enforce its standards.

Florida’s modernisation of its IT systems may eventually pick up pace. But don’t expect miracles. Just a crawl.

Even Taylor accepts the need for an almost painfully steady-as-you-go approach. “We should demonstrate that we can be successful in our current consolidation efforts before taking on even greater challenges.”