Dec 31 2009

Integration Management: The Missing Link

Photo: Steve Barrett

Much has been written about a federal government that works better and costs less. In fact, that desired state has been the key driver of management reform efforts by at least the last two presidents.

Information technology is at the core of these efforts and is expected to improve government performance. By recognizing the role that federal IT and CIOs must play in implementing systems critical to improving performance and to correct long-standing problems in IT resources management, the Office of Management and Budget is pursuing an aggressive program to reform agencies' IT management practices.

CIOs today are busy developing visions of how IT will support missions and crafting modernization plans to move to the target state. These modernization programs will be expensive and hold significant implementation risks. Will the reforms that OMB is leading improve the ability of CIO organizations to make the leap to the target state?

Let's examine the management processes that agencies are using to coordinate planning and implementation of IT projects to deliver their visions. Although I see some focus on coordinating schedules across multiple projects, there's been little effort to coordinate the integration of processes, shared data and systems—all of which are critical to complex modernization efforts. This is a serious oversight.

Agencies increasingly must take an enterprise view toward business processes and IT. For one, agencies are focusing their mission strategies on their key constituents, who in most cases are citizens. The objective is to better serve the public by making it easier to do business with the government and by making government more accessible.

Second, agencies lack resources, and moving to a rational IT enterprise holds the promise of reducing development and maintenance costs. Part of taking the enterprise view requires an organization to create it—no easy task. Consider the effort and issues involved in developing enterprise architectures.

With their EAs in hand, agencies are developing plans to move to target architectures. These plans result in a prioritized list of projects that must be completed to achieve the target state.

For agencies with extensive, distributed IT infrastructures and hundreds of legacy applications, this list is lengthy and complex. Also, to obtain funding, agencies must tie each project to an investment review and a budget proposal.

The Intricacies

Once they get funding, agencies must simultaneously manage sometimes hundreds of related projects. Because of systems interdependencies, many of which spring from the enterprise concept of build once and use many times, projects need to be completed in sequence and on schedule to reach the target environment.

It is quite common for multiple agencies, contractors and integrators to be part of a modernization, further complicating and challenging implementation efforts.

The state of federal IT management has been one of ongoing enhancement since the passage of the Clinger-Cohen Act. The rate of change increased with the Bush administration's rollout of the President's Management Agenda and its related IT management reforms.

A number of the reforms have focused on planning and managing IT projects to deliver better mission results. Several are especially relevant to challenges that CIOs face in implementing large, complex IT modernizations across enterprises.

The IT Connection

The first reform following Clinger-Cohen's passage in 1996 emphasized capital planning and investment control. Initially, the government focused on more robust justification for IT projects—pinned on improved planning, defining the benefits to be achieved, setting implementation plans and accounting for risk. The emphasis then shifted to control of projects during implementation.

In the Bush administration's second term, OMB has provided stronger leadership in this reform effort. Although capital planning remains a priority, in the past the focus was on integrating enterprise architectures with resource decisions.

Two more narrow reform areas have emerged over the past few years. One is a strong push to train IT managers in project and program management skills and to certify their credentials. This recognizes the critical element that day-to-day leadership and management of IT investments has in delivering promised benefits. The other push is the use of earned-value management to measure progress, or the lack of it, in implementing IT projects.

Administration reforms have advanced the practice of IT management. The Federal Enterprise Architecture and the push for agencies to develop organizational architectures have provided a foundation for consolidating IT infrastructures and broadening the use of common solutions.

The result is a reduction in duplicative efforts, an increase in savings and a boost in interoperability.

Capital planning and investment control, project management certification and earned-value management each contribute to project excellence, but they cannot deliver the target state.

In the complex federal IT environment, CIOs need a discipline not just for designing and implementing individual projects but for implementing multiple interdependent projects. And ultimately, they must roll out these projects with the goal of reaching the target environments envisioned by their EAs—over a span of time where requirements and planning are constantly changing.

What's needed is the addition of integration management—the discipline of managing integration across multiple, interdependent projects to deliver a target state architecture that supports improved mission performance.

The objective of integration management is to deliver the EA vision. Agencies manage many projects individually through development life cycles, but coordinating common integration points and system and program interdependencies is a separate function.

Almost by definition, this function must be established at the enterprise level. Integration management defines the target state using five work streams: function, system, information, organization and communications, and integration planning and support.

A Better Road Map

For each work stream, a set of work products documents the interrelationships between the initiatives and the target state. Integration management can also coordinate contracting activities across multiple providers and ensure that IT governance clearly focuses on resolving issues that could impair reaching the target state.

Integration management is a critical element in modernizing IT in today's complex federal environment. Without it, agencies will struggle to coordinate individual improvement projects and legacy systems. By practicing this management discipline, agencies will improve their chances of harmonizing multiple modernization projects successfully.