Tag Archives: Steven VanRoekel

The US approach to increasing innovation in government

By David Bicknell

I liked a recent blog written in the US by a ‘federal coach’ – I guess they could only get away with that title in the US!- about US government efforts to increase innovation in departments.

The piece makes the point that the White House recently launched an innovation scheme grandly titled the Presidential Innovation Fellows program that will bring in 15 ‘innovators’ from outside government to provide expertise on five technology projects.  

According to the article, within 24 hours of the announcement, more than 600 people had applied to go to Washington for at least six months to work with federal employees on projects aimed at making government more effective and more accountable.

The projects, which will be led by Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Government Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel, include creating an electronic payment system for government transactions involving foreign aid and U.S. operations overseas; and streamlining an online system for citizens in need of federal services.

It sounds impressive. The “Presidential Innovation Fellows program is based in part on the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence  programme that allows agencies to recruit world-class, private-sector innovators for limited periods of time and pair them with public-sector innovators to solve big problems.”

For the US, its scheme of government and the strength of its technology sector, it will probably work. Could such a programme work here? What would be the equivalent of a Presidential Innovation Fellows programme? And how many offers of help would it achieve within 24 hours of its launch?

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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.”

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

US Government opens its books on IT projects

By David Bicknell

The Office of Management and Budget in the US has gone some way to opening up the books on IT investments to public scrutiny with the updating of the Agency’s IT Dashboard.

The move,  announced by Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel, makes publicly available detailed IT investment information in support of the President Obama’s FY 2013 Budget.

The Obama Administration launched the IT Dashboard in 2009 to create  more transparent and open government.

As VanRoekel says in his blog,  “By publicly posting data on more than 700 IT investments across the Federal government, we armed agencies with the tools needed to reduce duplication in IT spending, strengthen the accountability of agency CIOs, and provide more accurate and detailed information on projects and activities. We also gave Americans an unprecedented window into how their tax dollars were being spent.”

VanRoekel says the latest dashboard will provide greater transparency of IT investment performance and empower CIOs to intervene in troubled projects sooner. Changes include:

Making the Dashboard more accessible: the Dashboard will now provide access to individual projects and activities associated with an investment, link investments to funding sources, and include visualisations to track investment performance from year-to-year.

Identifying duplication: New data on what kind of services each investment provides will help US agencies identify and address duplication in their IT portfolios.

Improving data quality: Improved validations and warnings will prevent erroneous data from coming into the system,  while new data quality reports will help agencies identify improvements they can make to their existing data

More data and tools: More datasets are now being made available, as well as additional tools to enable the public to participate by downloading and building their own applications.

According to VanRoekel, the  transparency enhancements will improve the way US taxpayers’ dollars are spent. He argues that by using the IT Dashboard and Techstat accountability developments to focus on the most challenged critical projects, agencies and the Office of Management and Budget have driven reforms that have saved taxpayers upwards of $4 billion since the initial launch.