Interior ready to put substance behind IT reforms

Wednesday - 9/28/2011, 3:36pm EDT

Andrew Jackson, deputy assistant secretary for technology, information and business services, Department of Interior

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In the coming months, the Interior Department will see the impact of major changes it's made over the last 11 months to the way it manages and applies technology.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a memo in December giving the agency's chief information officer the ultimate influence over the department by controlling all infrastructure systems and IT procurement. The memo also abolished the title of CIO within the bureaus and changing them to assistant director for information resources.

Then CIO Bernie Mazer issued an IT strategic plan in June detailing specific goals and projects to improve Interior's approach to buying and managing technology.

"The big change really is we are in the process of consolidating the way IT is delivered," said Andrew Jackson, Interior's deputy assistant secretary for technology, information and business services. "And we are trying to think about IT more as a service and business value that is delivered to bureaus and field level employees rather than a collection of assets, people and things. It's really a fundamental shift in how you think about how IT delivers value to the business."

The first major piece of that consolidations and changes is expected to be ready this fall.

Jackson said there are several "quick wins" to show the bureaus the change is real and valuable.

One would let remote bureaus share local IT resources whether it's people or systems. Jackson said he heard from bureaus about administrative roadblocks that make it difficult for this to happen now.

"In the big picture we are looking at how to tear down those walls and allow for a common sense sharing of local IT resources to enhance the access to support that everyone in these remote locations could receive," Jackson said. "We targeted a pilot program in two locations in the western U.S. where we actually been able to systematically tear down all the barriers that were causing the bureaus to have a challenge with supporting each other."

Another quick win is making Microsoft's SharePoint available for external customers so bureaus can share information more easily with other agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Jackson said by the end of September Interior the site will be in use by a couple of projects that had an "urgent" need to share documents and collaborate.

As with any major shifts in management, Interior has spent a lot of time managing the change.

Jackson said senior technology officials have met with almost 2,000 employees in 70 field sessions to talk about business needs and gather suggestions for improvements.

"By-and-large the reception by field employees was extremely appreciative. There was a sense 'thank you for coming out to talk to us,'" Jackson said. "At the bureau levels, the higher you get, the more you get some of this institutional questions of what does this mean. The more we can say we believe this change is important because your employees say they need this. We are able to get more traction and speak credibly we are trying to do something that is for the benefit of the entire agency."

Jackson said Interior has tried to collaborative approach with the bureaus and they have embraced the changes.

"There has been a little bit of 'we aren't really sure how much we can buy into this because you haven't delivered yet.' So we are working closely with them," he said. "The strategic plan we issued in July and the detailed implementation plans we are working on have been done in very close collaboration with these formerly CIOs and now assistant directors for information resources."

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