OMB's Werfel plugs financial modernization

Thursday - 6/24/2010, 6:03am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas reports

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

Over the last two decades, it has not been unusual for a federal agency to invest millions of dollars, and as many as ten years, to modernize its financial management IT system.

But now, federal officials are re-thinking the way that financial management systems are upgraded, to save money, and also to better take advantage of rapidly changing technology.

Danny Werfel, the comptroller with the White House Office of Management and Budget, delivered his remarks on the subject of modernization as part of his keynote address to the AFFIRM CIO/CFO Summit meeting at the Capitol Hilton hotel yesterday.

Werfel says a change in the way that financial management systems are upgraded in agencies has been long overdue.

We've had systems that have failed. That, after much investment, we turn them on and they don't work. We've had systems that have taken way longer than anticipated to deploy. We've had systems that, because of these change management challenges, are taking five and 10 years to deploy, which creates enormous challenges because you can be seven to eight years into a deployment, and you're still deploying the technology solution that you procured seven to eight years ago. And we all know how quickly technology changes.

Werfel compared it to an individual purchasing a laptop personal computer today and only turning it on seven years from now.

As hinted in recent months by other top White House IT officials, OMB is now considering a draft memo mandating that agencies adopt a new approach to financial management system modernization. An approach that favors modernizing specific modules in a system as needed, with the newest technology available, and within a much shorter timeframe to completion.

"What we want to see going forward," he told the CIOs and CFO's, "is a very sophisticated, and robust and diligent, and well-thought out process program for project management, attacking a much smaller basic footprint of technology change in the short term."

Werfel also acknowledged the need, in these modernization projects, for agencies to take the time to properly import legacy data from older financial management systems, in order to help agency top level managers to gain perspective on the mission of their department.

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