Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel released a pair of strategies for critical IT areas in May. The strategies for shared services and mobile computing offer plenty of promise for improving IT operations and saving money, but they both have a long way to go to get there.
Getting the strategies to yield the rewards they promise will take hard work and strong leadership. But in addition to significant benefits, success with these efforts could also provide a roadmap for success in other important IT areas.
First, VanRoekel released the Federal IT Shared Services Strategy, which requires agencies to use a shared approach to IT service delivery. It is intended to improve return on investment in the federal IT portfolio, close productivity gaps and increase communications with stakeholders.
The document defines a shared service as an IT function provided for consumption by multiple organizations within or among federal agencies. The strategy identifies three categories of IT for shared services: commodity, support and mission.
VanRoekel later released the strategy on mobile computing, titled “Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People.” The document sets out three high-level objectives: to enable access to high-quality digital government information and services anywhere, at any time, on any device; to procure and manage devices, applications and data in smart, secure and affordable ways; and to unlock the power of government data to spur innovation and improve the quality of government services.
It’s useful to examine the shared services strategy and the mobile computing strategy by rating them on criteria I consider assessment keys:
- Priority: A measure of the relative importance of the strategy to the overall IT reform program.
- Clarity of objectives/focus: An evaluation of how well the stated objectives define the results of implementing the strategy.
- Benefits: The specificity with which the benefits to accrue from the strategy are stated.
- Ability to measure progress: How well progress to the desired results can be measured during implementation.
- Roadmap/action plans: An evaluation of how well the implementation milestones of each strategy advance the strategy toward its objectives.
- CIO leverage: An evaluation of how well CIOs are positioned to lead implementation.
- Tied to budget: A consideration of how the budget is being used to drive implementation of the strategy.
- Timing: A look at the timing of introducing the strategy during the administration lifecycle.
I consider the mobility strategy to be better positioned for implementation than the shared services strategy, but both documents include multiple areas that need improvement.
The shared services strategy certainly addresses a high-priority area: managing costs and improving services and security. However, the plan has several flaws:
- The strategy reshapes past shared service initiatives, which addressed mainly common application systems, by adding in IT infrastructure where initiatives such as Cloud First and Federal Data Center Consolidation already are in place. I think this is a mistake. It reduces focus and increases confusion. I predict that the common application systems, which involve the most challenging shared service opportunities, will lose steam.
- The plan does not include any specific objectives in terms of cost savings or other objective measures of benefits to be achieved by implementing it. Should objective measures be defined, the strategy does not set targets against which progress can be measured.
- The strategy relies on a management process that has proved to be problematic in the past when attempting to drive operational change down through agencies.
- The strategy contains some milestones, but they involve very early stages of the effort. It relies too much on the development of future plans to define and drive results.
- CIOs are positioned to drive improvements in IT infrastructure and the enterprise IT systems they control; but for common application systems, they are not positioned to drive improvements, and the governance process will prove much more challenging.
- The strategy does not address how it ties into the budget, which drives change in the federal government.
- History has demonstrated that complex initiatives that are introduced in what is possibly the last year of an administration are not completed.
I rated the mobility strategy more highly against the assessment keys. In addition to addressing a high-priority challenge area, the mobility strategy has objectives that are more clear, focused and measurable. Its action plans are more comprehensive and can be linked back to its objectives, providing a better basis for measuring progress. CIOs are better positioned to lead the strategy’s implementation.
But I found the mobility strategy less than complete in several areas. While many of its benefits may be considered self-evident, the strategy does not define explicit economic benefits. And like the shared services strategy, the link to the budget is not clear, and the timing of the initiative is a concern.
Despite shortcomings in these strategies, progress can be made by implementing each, putting the government closer to realizing benefits. But this will require steadfast and determined leadership by the Office of Management and Budget and federal CIOs. These are important IT reform areas, and IT leaders should continue to push hard to implement change.