May 12 2020

Quality Service Management Organizations Will Collaborate on IT Projects

Shared IT services, long considered a cost-cutter, are receiving renewed attention with the formation of teams called QSMOs.

The “how” is still shaping up, but the “why” couldn’t be clearer: The federal government is pursuing a strategy of shared IT services in hopes of improving service quality, driving consistent outcomes, speeding up implementation of new rules and regulations, and lowering long-term costs.

In April 2019, the Office of Management and Budget released a memo titled “Centralized Mission Support Capabilities for the Federal Government,” which outlined a vision for how Quality Service Management Organizations would offer and manage a marketplace of solutions.

The QSMOs (pronounced cues-mos) will work with agencies to build business cases for new solution offerings, institute customer engagement to allow for continuous improvement and drive the implementation of standards that will lead to new efficiencies.

Since then, the QSMOs (predesignated groups based in the General Services Administration and the Health and Human Services and Treasury departments; the Department of Homeland Security just got official designation) have been developing standards and assessing opportunities to create new efficiencies through shared services.

“We’ve been working with the agencies on their plans to make sure we have a path to success, which in many cases includes early-stage pilots,” says Federal CIO Suzette Kent. “Those agencies have been doing customer engagement to get a better understanding of what should be offered, and to better understand the desires of the customers. The next step is for those agencies to begin building out the shared-services marketplaces and start the implementation.”

An Update to the Concept of Shared Services

“The QSMOs will decide in what order those services are delivered, based on customer feedback and on available solutions that meet those needs,” Kent adds.

“Those can be current government solutions that they pull into a structure that makes them easier to offer, they could be vendor solutions, they could be things that the QSMOs build — or they could be things that are offered as a service, with the QSMO operating as a general contractor.”

Shared services in federal government is far from a new idea. But proponents of the new push hope that the effort will utilize lessons learned from previous initiatives, emphasize continuous improvement and accountability and feature proactive engagements with the agencies being served.

“The idea of shared services goes back to the early 2000s, but everything has evolved so much since then,” says Nicole Burdette, technology marketing and public relations leader for MeriTalk

“It was a good concept then, but today it’s more technically feasible,” she adds. “I think there is a very significant opportunity here, because we’re at a very different place with technology today.

“It means faster service, it means better service, and it means self-service in some cases,” Burdette says. “The other goal is absolutely to save money. We know if we’re supporting hundreds of human resource information systems — and we know there are hundreds of these systems across government — those are wasted dollars that can’t be used for innovation.”

VIDEO: Federal CIO Suzette Kent explains the government’s IT innovation agenda.

The Search for Consistency for Agencies

Burdette notes that around 80 percent of federal IT dollars are currently spent on operations just to maintain the status quo. “Shared services are an opportunity to shift that equation to eliminate redundancy and waste, so that those dollars can be used for innovation and improvements,” she says.

One lesson that came out of the QSMOs’ standards-setting process, Kent says, was how inconsistent some relatively basic services can be across government.

“To take the example of payroll, a federal employee has a different experience depending on what agency they work for and the payroll provider they have,” she says. 

“That could mean getting paid on different days, or having a different number of pay periods. By moving to something that’s managed by standards, we hope that not only can we be more nimble, but that we’ll also have a higher level of service for people consuming the services.”

Mike Duffy, deputy associate director for the cybersecurity division of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of DHS, notes that the agency already provides cybersecurity services such as vulnerability assessments, architecture reviews, indicator sharing and technical assistance. Designated in April as the newest QSMO, CISA has already made “great strides” in formalizing requirements, establishing interest areas with agencies and ­engaging potential service providers, Duffy says. 

READ MORE: Find out why you should include employees in the journey of deploying emerging tech. 

How Tech, People and Processes Impact Shared Services 

“In our first year, customer engagement and customer experience are a top priority,” Duffy says. “As new threats, risks and interagency challenges emerge, the QSMO will drive implementation of standards that produce efficiencies in process and scale, and facilitate cost avoidance by standardizing and streamlining shared services.”

“There are great examples of how shared services work in government today,” says Earl Pinto, deputy associate administrator for shared solutions and performance improvement in the GSA’s Office of Government-Wide Policy. “One example is the efficiencies and scale GSA can deliver for other federal agencies when managing their vehicle fleets. 

Federal CIO Suzette Kent

Federal CIO Suzette Kent has been a key proponent of the federal government’s evolution on shared services. Photography by Michael Wolcott

"Managing this shared service results in savings of 23 cents per mile driven compared with when agencies manage their own fleets. We are using a well-researched, data-driven approach to identify common standards,” Pinto adds.

“The underpinning of this effort is the development of standards to better understand where sharing opportunities make sense and where they do not."

It’s too early to say exactly what sorts of technologies will power the push toward increased shared services. But the QSMOs are likely to rely on a mix of purpose-built applications that run on both on-premises and public cloud infrastructure, as well as solutions ­provided by third-party vendors.

“It will vary by agency,” Kent says. “They will all definitely be making investments, not just in the technology itself, but in the delivery model.”

“I think we’re going to see a mix,” says Burdette. “What we’ve seen in the past is that when things are too strictly mandated, there are challenges.”

Pinto says that partnership with industry will be critical to the success of the new shared-services push.

“Industry will be asked to bring modern, configurable and service-oriented solutions to government to reduce any unnecessary or duplicative footprint and the risk of operating aging technology,” he says. 

Federal CIO Suzette Kent
By moving to something that’s managed by standards, we hope that not only can we be more nimble, but that we’ll also have a higher level of service.”

Suzette Kent Federal CIO

“Additionally, industry is expected to bring solutions that are innovative and improve customer service.”

In many ways, says Burdette, specific technologies will be less important than the work that needs to happen to get agencies to embrace shared services more fully than they have in the past.

After agencies were asked in 2012 to identify two areas of opportunity for shared services, she says, there was no evidence of follow-up on success or failure in moving those functions to a shared-services model.

“It’s not the technology that’s the challenge,” Burdette says. “It’s policy, and it’s culture.” Still, she says, she can’t help but be intrigued by the possibilities that may present themselves from a technology standpoint once agencies are combining forces in a more robust way.

“I think about the use and growing opportunity around next-generation technologies, and using DevOps processes to securely build and deploy applications faster,” she says.

“And I think about artificial intelligence and machine learning. If we think about shared services, and bringing together the data, and putting AI and ML on top, it’s going to enable insights that weren’t possible before.

“We’ll see new trends and be able to do things that we just can’t do today,” Burdette adds. “I think that’s really exciting.”

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