The Obama administration has made no secret of its desire to remake and reform federal IT. Beginning with the 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has outlined an ambitious agenda for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal enterprise.
Most recently, OMB has required agencies to review their IT investment portfolios to identify opportunities to consolidate the acquisition and management of commodity IT. This process, known as “PortfolioStat,” is intended to help agencies assess the maturity of their IT portfolio management process and make decisions on eliminating duplication across their IT portfolios.
The emphasis on maximizing return on IT investment portfolios means the ability to prioritize investments has become critical as agencies strive to ensure that all IT investments are aligned with agency goals while also cutting out waste.
The Starting Line
So, where to start? The foundation of any review and prioritization process is a robust enterprise architecture program. Enterprise architecture can help answer questions like:
- Is there already a solution that provides this service?
- How does the proposed solution fit into the big picture? For example, some investments use data that are useful and relevant to many stakeholders across the agency, while others use data that are useful to only one group.
- How does this investment measure up against its stated performance metrics? These metrics need to measure performance against agency strategic goals, cost of implementation or integration, cost of maintenance and operations, and performance against contracts and service-level agreements.
- Could this investment be considered commodity IT? For example, case management systems and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems could be considered commodity IT at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
Now that these questions have been answered, it’s time to make decisions about the agency’s IT portfolio. In the past, many agency portfolios have resembled the "Hotel California," where investments can check in, but they can never leave. In this reform-driven environment, it is critical to divest and consolidate investments where it makes sense. For example, DOL has over a dozen redundant case management systems. There is a project now underway to build an enterprise case management solution that can be used across the agency. Obviously, this is MUCH easier to say than do, however, clearly communicating agency strategy and goals should make conversations with investment managers and owners less contentious.
You also need to make decisions about potential additions to the agency portfolio. Proposed investments need to be scrutinized to make sure that:
- They are consistent with agency IT strategic and operational objectives;
- They are not redundant across the agency;
- They enable systems integration;
- They facilitate strategic sourcing and consolidation across agency components;
- They drive efficiencies throughout the organization; and
- They support reuse of existing assets and data.
At the DOL, all IT proposals above $100,000 are reviewed by the IT Acquisition Review Board (ITARB). The ITARB’s five members (Deputy CIO, Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief IT Governance Officer, and the Director of Acquisition Management Services) are responsible for approving funds for IT acquisitions to ensure that they align with the department’s IT strategic goals and objectives.
In a perfect world, this should result in a reform-worthy portfolio. But, as you know, we don’t live in a perfect world, so don’t follow these suggestions blindly. Keep an eye out for exceptions and one-offs that need to be handled differently. By using common sense and following the logic of these guidelines, your agency’s IT should be reformed in no time.