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

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