As agencies continue to embark on large-scale systems efforts, the tasks grow increasingly complex and more know-how becomes necessary to fulfill missions. With an increasing array of products and vendors in the market, as well as the requirement to deploy systems across multiple organizations, agencies must carefully evaluate how new systems and upgraded applications will integrate into existing architectures. To do this, they must figure out how to optimize their existing investments while improving their ability to achieve their mission and operational objectives.
Debate persists over whether “contracting out” government workers is more cost-effective than “hiring in,” and whether government roles and responsibilities should be entrusted, even in part, to contractors. Undoubtedly, systems integrators can provide agencies with resources to supplement internal teams. In fact, the government’s own in-house shop, the Federal Systems Integration and Management Center at the General Services Administration, manages more than $1.7 billion worth of systems projects annually for agencies with the specific aim of helping them partner with vendors to take on challenging integration initiatives.
If chosen wisely, an integration team can add value by bringing the vendor’s experience working on diverse projects and in varying environments into an agency. There are eight value areas agencies should consider when rating systems integrators to determine which one best fits the job.
Because of ongoing and significant investments in information technology R&D, systems integrators offer a wide range of technology, staff and expertise. To capitalize on those investments, agencies should align their needs against a vendor’s investment; then, an agency can turn to the integrator that can deliver viable IT options that they know have been researched, tested and piloted before deployment in a live agency environment.
Efficient program management is as essential as the technology deployed to ensure success. Most integrators’ work extends beyond IT-only initiatives — typically into areas such as aviation, space systems, ships and submarines — so they generally have multidisciplinary expertise. But agencies should identify their skills gap in program management methodologies, such as Capability
Maturity Model Integration, earned value management and Six Sigma, and select an integrator that can fill that gap as the disciplines overlap.
As government becomes increasingly integrated horizontally across mission priorities such as homeland security, health care and intelligence, agencies require an improved ability to connect IT systems, missions and best practices. As this convergence of disciplines continues, agencies should look to integrators for new ideas that can benefit the federal community at large.
In times of significant change, such as the post-9/11 era, when new agency mission requirements emerged and existing systems were found to be ill-suited or too overloaded to meet these new demands, the availability of new knowledge resources is essential. As agencies continue to experience program, research and personnel cutbacks, they should consider the talent pools of integrators, where they can find scientists, engineers, program managers and executives well versed in legacy and current government programs. Plus, many people working for these companies once manned the project front lines in government.
Today, many government organizations operate on a global scale, so they need worldwide support. Sometimes an agency can augment its domestic resources by letting a vendor provide services abroad through already established international offices. The key is to measure the expense of setting up and supporting a foreign organization versus paying for those services.
Agencies must be constantly at the ready to reallocate resources and personnel as priorities change and new requirements emerge. It’s not easy or quick to hire new government IT employees, but agencies can create ready-to-tap staffs by setting up arrangements for varying service levels from vendors on an as-needed basis. Integrators can ramp up staff more quickly and absorb the cost elsewhere to provide surge resources for personnel with highly strategic and specific expertise, as well as for tools and technology.
Agencies have a wide array of products and vendors to choose from to support their diverse mission requirements.
Integrators offer agencies another avenue for identifying the best options because an agency can ask an integrator to lay out technology approaches and provide data on what’s worked and what hasn’t. Additionally, because integrators have largely moved to applying commercial and primarily standards-based technologies, agencies can ensure that the integrator they choose offers the most current and future options for interoperability — essential for meeting current data-sharing and management mandates.
Though each agency’s mission is unique, many agencies’ IT programs demand similar systems, networking and communications infrastructures. Agencies can reduce costs and deployment risks associated with these complex systems by using integrators’ already-established best practices, often based on prior government work. Although an agency project typically requires customization, integrators can draw on that experience.
In the end, the IT challenges that agencies face today are complex, large-scale and diverse, but systems integrators offer tangible and intangible values well beyond the IT they help agencies deploy.