Maximizing Technology ROI

Priority Report: Data Center Solutions

With help from private sector leaders, the Obama Administration has outlined five best practices designed to increase the impact that technology has on federal organizations while keeping costs in check.

By Cara Garretson

In January, President Obama hosted a series of forums at that White House under the heading `Modernizing Government,’ where private sector leaders were invited to offer their opinions and suggested best practices to help federal agencies cut costs while improving operational efficiencies and customer service.  In one of those meetings, led by Jack Lew, Deputy Secretary for the Department of State, private-sector leaders shared their ideas for how federal government agencies can prioritize technology investments and manage IT budgets to deliver results.  

An Agency Perspective
At the start of the meeting, Lew explained to the private-sector leaders some of the challenges that federal agency managers face.

“From an agency perspective, you’re focused on getting your work done,” he told the group. “You look at a world that doesn’t lend itself easily to strategic planning, particularly in an area like IT where decisions are made based on what you know today. And the systems we have, they’re probably not implemented for the better part of two years because the funding doesn’t come along right away.”

Lew added that federal agencies need advice regarding not only how to launch new IT projects, but also how to revamp projects that aren’t meeting their defined goals. “How do we get to the point where our strategy drives our systems, as opposed to our systems determining our strategy?” he asked.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, who also participated in the forum, asked the group to offer their expertise to help federal agencies manage the more than $76 billion worth of information technology projects currently underway in the federal government.

“We’d love to engage in a discussion [about] … what could the government do, and learning from you how you’ve managed really complex IT projects … and producing the dividends that were promised up front, which seems to be one of the problems in the government,” he said.

Defining Best Practices
With input from the private-sector leaders, the group came up with the following five best practices:

1. Demonstrate Need Before Investment: Before purchasing new products and services, agencies should be able to outline a clear purpose for the new technology and show that it aligns with end-user needs;

2.  “Right-size” IT Projects for Results: 
The longest timelines that agencies should develop for their technology projects is twelve to eighteen months. If a project takes longer than that to implement, the return on investment decreases and the products and services chosen run the risk of becoming obsolete. Large-scale projects should be broken into smaller chunks with discreet goals and timelines;

3. Deliver Customer Benefits at Each Project Milestone: 
In addition to keeping timelines in check, agencies should set well-defined and periodic milestones for each project, and demonstrable customer benefits must be achieved within a year. If it’s not clear that the customer benefits can be demonstrated within this timeframe, the agency shouldn’t go forward with the project;

4. Minimize Software Customization: 
Whenever possible, federal agencies should use off-the-shelf software to save on the expense and complexity of writing custom applications;

5. Standardize IT Across the Enterprise:
Federal IT managers should work toward standardizing technology across the organization, particularly software and data center infrastructures. Standardization can be hard to achieve, since department-level managers are often interested in technology that suits their teams, so this mandate must come from agency leadership.