Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The missing piece in Federal IT reform.

Vivek Kundra (Federal CIO at OMB) recently released a 25 point plan to reform Federal IT. It is an ambitious and detailed plan with timeframes and specific accountability that, if implemented, will certainly improve the planning, contracting and management of IT in the Federal government. However, while the details are there, the motivation behind the 25 points is missing – the emphasis is on action, not rationale. Now, action is good – without it nothing would get done. :-) However, I believe that more action will be undertaken if Federal IT managers understand what is behind the plan.

Having been involved in Federal IT for almost 30 years and a contributor to many IT improvement initiatives, I am going to take a shot at reading between the lines and try to discern the goals and objectives underlying the 25 point plan. First, I will try to categorize the points into a few groups (assignment of points to categories is indicated in parentheses). Obviously, some of the points can be assigned to different or additional categories, but this is probably close enough.

1. Reduce the cost of IT infrastructure (1,2,3,20)
2. Modernize government IT acquisition and contracting (4,5,13,16,25)
3. Reduce IT risks through better program management (7,8,12)
4. Identify and implement IT best practices (9,10,11,14,24)
5. Promote shared services and modular development (6,15,17)
6. Align processes for capital investment, budgeting and modular development (17, 18, 19, 20)
7. Improve IT management and oversight (22,23)

This categorization, while useful, does not really tell us what the underlying goals are. For example, there is an emphasis on shared services and modular development – but why? So, the next step is to try to abstract out the principles and goals that drive the categories and points. But, before we get to that, let’s look at the major challenges facing the Federal government with respect to IT. Here are some of the most significant.

1. Major IT program failures – billions lost due to failed program cancelations
2. Inability of applications to interoperate or share data (due to technical and semantic issues)
3. Majority of IT budget spent on O&M, leaving little to fund development of new capabilities (resulting in a large backlog of enhancement and new functionality requests)
4. Development lifecycle takes too long – driving large contracts and large contractors; requirement change during development
5. Redundancy (same capability is built into many applications) and inconsistency (enforcement of the same policy differs in multiple applications)
6. Lots of money wasted on redundant infrastructure and redundant capabilities

Ok, so let’s get to the goals and objectives behind the 25 point plan. The bottom line is the need to rationalize and modernize Federal IT management. At a high level, this includes the following.

1. Make IT more cost effective (reduce the per unit cost of delivering capabilities)
2. Provide better support to the business/mission of government – enable IT agility to underscore business agility
3. Reduce the risk and cycletime associated with IT development programs
4. Reduce redundancy and improve consistency through reuse

Ok, so if this is what we want to achieve, how do we go about achieving it? Some of the ways include the following:

1. Rationalize IT platforms and infrastructure (virtualization, cloud)
2. Update the IT process (acquisition through deployment/maintenance, modular (twin-track) SDLC)
3. Improve roles and skillsets (CIOs, acquisition specialists, program managers, etc)
4. Improve communications and collaboration (government – industry, business – IT, providers – consumers, semantics, IPTs)
5. Institute evaluation and feedback mechanisms (Techstat process)

Which brings us back to the 25 point plan. Now that we understand what we are trying to achieve, let’s get on with it.

Dave Mayo, Everware-CBDI