Ambitious IT reform plan viewed as effective

Tuesday - 9/18/2012, 3:36am EDT

Federal Drive panel discussion on IT reform

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For too long, the government had thrown good money after bad when it came to IT spending, according to former Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra. In December 2010, he unveiled a sweeping plan to reform federal IT projects, encompassing 25 focus areas.

Among them: Shuttering data centers and transitioning to cloud-computing platforms and implementing more robust metrics and processes to effectively manage large- scale IT projects.

With the CIO's office now under the stewardship of Steven VanRoekel and many implementation deadlines now past, Federal News Radio examines whether the initial progress has continued.

Why the 25-point IT Reform Plan was rated Effective
Reason #1: Most major IT investments received a green score on Performance.gov.

Reason #2: OMB has issued cloud-computing policies as well as an overarching digital government strategy.

Reason #3: The Federal Chief Information Officers Council released cybersecurity workforce development guidance to give agency IT departments "a common framework" for describing competencies and credentials to fill key cyber roles.

(More primary source material available on The Obama Impact Resource Page)

For analysis, Federal News Radio turned to two federal IT experts: Karen Evans, partner at KE&T Partners, LLC, and former administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology (IT) at the Office of Management and Budget, and Dan Chenok, executive director of IBM's Center for The Business of Government.

Karen Evans

This discussion is part of Federal News Radio's special report, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the Last Four Years. Throughout the series, Federal News Radio examines 23 different ideas and initiatives instituted by the Obama Administration and ranks them as effective, ineffective and more progress needed.

When it comes to the IT reform plan, Federal News Radio rates the Obama administrations' efforts as being effective.

Both Evans and Chenok said the plan is both an evolution of previous administration's effort to reform technology, as well as an acknowledgement of the quickly changing technological landscape.

Cloud computing

Chenok said cloud-first is one of the biggest successes of the administration's IT reform agenda. The 25-point plan directed CIOs to identify "must move" services and create a plan for migrating those services to the cloud.

Dan Chenok

The cloud policy allows agencies "to put more of their programs, applications online through either a public cloud, in the case of a low sensitivity, low security risk application, or even a shared private cloud in the case of higher sentitive applications. [It] gives agencies the ability to do some data center linkages," Chenok said.

These capabilities can open to the door to "radical economics," he said.

Data center consolidation

In the 1990s, data center consolidation meant taking a group of servers and combining them in one building to save some real estate costs, Chenok said. Now, because of cloud computing, the administration is set to close more than 500 data centers by the end of this year.

The availability of the technology converged with a budget environment that has forced agencies to look for efficiencies.

"Agencies have an opportunity, based on doing the data center consolidation, to be able to really take a look at what programs, what applications are out there, and realize synergies across the board — not just within their own department and agency but with other agencies or departments that could be colocated in the same place, which would then allow them to secure the data, manage the data and actually streamline applications," Evans said.

Role of IT program manager

The 25-point plan directed the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget to create an advancement path for IT program managers.

Evans said the challenge to find the right people with the right set of skills exists no matter what the administration.

"This is an area that continues to need attention only because the people aspect of all of this needs attention," she said.

Chenok agreed, saying the program manager must know how to work up to the level of the executives, across disciplines and with industry. "It's much more complex than a project manager," he said.

Modular development

In IT acquisitions, agencies must make the shift to offering incentives to industry for offering "useful chunks," rather than putting out large-scale solicitations, Chenok said.

Agencies are trying to change "what had been a waterfall approach — build one thing at a time, wait for it works, get it right and go on to the next thing. Basically, agile is very iterative, very rapid, quick, interactive. That lends itself well to modular, so hopefully we'll engage that way," Chenok said.

This acquisition change will rely on a mindset change on the part of program managers, Evan said.

"They also have to think about, 'How do I partner with acquisitions to break these down in small enough chunks so I have rapid development and rapid deployment?'" she said.

Mobile

In May, OMB unveiled a plan to standardize the mobile evolution. Included in that discussion is bring-your-own-device strategies.

"It really forces the agency to think along the lines of services and not hardware, iron and all of those other things, in order to be able to make that a reality," Evans said.


More from the special report, The Obama Impact: Evaluating the Last Four Years

Part 1: Evaluating the Obama administration's management initiatives

Part 2: Evaluating Obama's technology reforms

Part 3: Evaluating Obama's workforce initiatives

Part 4: Evaluating Obama's acquisition efforts

Part 5A: What would a second-term for President Obama mean for feds?

Part 5B: What would a Romney presidency mean for federal workers?