|IN THIS ISSUE|
|Sunday, April, 1, 2012|
|Learning to Share|
|Tags: shared services|
|Posted By Joseph Klimavicz, CIO, NOAA|
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been using a shared approach to information technology (IT) service delivery for a long time. Early on NOAA recognized and pursued this opportunity to reduce cost and improve services because the agency’s budget has always been tight and its IT is decentralized and vast. Sharing IT services is important, and has provided benefits and challenges for NOAA.
What’s the big deal about sharing?
A shared service is a function or capability that is provided by one organization to multiple organizations. Intra-agency shared services are within a department (in our case, the Department of Commerce), and inter-agency shared services are shared across departments. I consider cloud solutions to be a form of shared IT services.
Although shared IT services are not new, they are an increasingly important part of the federal-wide effort to reduce waste and resources. One of my early assignments was to develop software on a shared IBM mainframe—employees from across the country would access one computer. NOAA has been sharing IT services between subordinate units for many years. What is new today is ubiquitous access to shared IT services through mature technology such as virtualized servers, cloud-based applications, object reuse, security controls, and continuous monitoring.
And the impetus for more sharing is coming from the top down. More than a year ago, OMB highlighted an action item in the December 2010 IT Reform Agenda and released a new policy detailing the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) to encourage more sharing. This policy provided federal agencies with a standardized set of security controls for authorizing cloud-computing services in December 2011.
CIOs play a key role. They are accountable for working with agency leadership and program managers in lowering operational costs, reducing the number of wasteful duplicative IT systems, terminating and turning around troubled projects, and delivering meaningful functionality at a faster rate.
CIOs are also key players in the design and implementation of shared service initiatives, and need to be change agents in the transition to shared IT services. CIOs must consider the enterprise’s capacity for change, and need to bring a unique cross-organizational perspective that can help identify commonalities and redundancies and assist program managers in working with other organizations within their departments or across agencies. In accordance with OMB policy, agency CIOs must show preference for shared IT services, as a provider or consumer, instead of standing up separate independent services.
What Sharing Can Do
Given the decreasing budgets, expanding performance requirements, and rising customer expectations, federal agencies must find ways to do more with less. Sharing IT services can be a powerful approach to reducing cost, increasing quality, and quickly delivering new capabilities. Widespread adoption of this approach will help bring standardization across the federal government and enable it to be leaner, more agile, and more efficient. Here are a few ways:
How NOAA Gets It Done
NOAAs shared IT services strategy mirrors the federal strategy. Our overall strategy is to consolidate commodity IT services as building blocks to support more complex shared IT services. Activities build upon one another, starting locally and moving to larger NOAA-wide communities—moving up the value chain to mission areas where inter-agency shared IT services have the potential to create far greater cost efficiencies.
This crawl, walk, run approach to complex implementations allows NOAA to gain proficiency in low risk areas that represent “low hanging fruit.” In parallel, we have been working with managing partners from several Lines of Business to take advantage of more robust inter-agency and mission-focused services. We are supporting the Department of Commerce by opening our shared services to the entire department, and we look for existing commodity IT contracts before creating new ones.
Agencies looking to use the shared services strategy will need to develop a communication/marketing strategy to encourage the use of shared IT services and document success stories. They will also need an implementation guide to document standards and best practices, a training plan, and incentives or awards to encourage the “pull” from consumers instead of relying on the “push” from providers.
NOAA Shared IT Services
We have already adopted varying degrees of shared IT services across NOAA. Some of those initiatives are:
Challenges and Lessons Learned
On the path to shared IT service success, there are important decisions to make to avoid pitfalls. Key challenges include a lack of visibility of available shared services, acquisition and budget restrictions, data security/privacy, business models, and performance requirements. These all have contributed to a culture in which proprietary, specialized systems are common.
One of the challenges is cost. Given the rapid pace of change in technology, it’s not enough to just build technology solutions that meet today’s needs. As it stands, agency IT investments are so highly specialized and difficult to integrate with one another that it can be less expensive to acquire a new proprietary system than to share existing systems. Not to mention that it may take up to one year to transfer funds between departments to take advantage of services in other agencies. Shared IT services can also create a mismatch of staffing skills, or the business case may be based on lower IT operational head counts that cannot be easily obtained.
Another challenge is governance. Most efforts to consolidate or share IT services fail due to governance issues including the authority to force change when necessary, loss of power or control for those giving up resources, understanding and agreeing to expectations, and the ability to resolve inevitable conflicts arising from fulfillment, change management, and pricing and chargeback policies. Leadership engagement and sponsorship with the authority and accountability for results is a must. And nothing is more important than good project management to ensure performance, enforce deadlines, and keep the project within budget.
Despite these challenges, shared IT services is not only coming, it’s here. Once we overcome the initial funding and management obstacles, sharing services will prove to be the way we all learn to do more with less.