Inside job<@VM>Out of the many, few
- By Joab Jackson
- Jun 15, 2004
'Our goal is to identify a solution that meets identified needs. It all starts with the business requirements.'
Department sets ambitious plans for consolidating its back-office systems
'The users really do become attached to what they are using, even if they hated it when it first was implemented.'
'Commerce Department's James Taylor
Henrik G. de Gyor
Think for a moment about the tremendous technical challenge of knitting 22 agencies into one agency. Get everyone on the same network. Prune overlapping business systems'and there are a lot of them'until you get one system for each departmentwide process. Provide collaboration tools. Meet Office of Management and Budget mandates. And pay all 183,000 employees though one system, balanced from a single ledger.
Critics have been vocal about the pace in which DHS is implementing these systems, but department officials say they've spent much of the last year studying what they need to do, before barreling into multimillion-dollar modernizations. New systems have to fit DHS' emerging enterprise architecture, officials say, and they can't waste money ripping out still-serviceable systems.
The Resource Management Transformation Office, led by Catherine Santana, is in the midst of developing a single system to handle the department's finances under a program called the Electronically Managing Enterprise Resources for Government Efficiency and Effectiveness, or Emerge2.
The office plans to take the system online by the middle of next year.Ambitious timeline
It is an ambitious timeline. Two corporations that merge can take five years to completely get their back-office systems in line, said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of the market research firm Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va. So the task of merging 22 agencies is considerable.
The Emerge2 request for proposals was set for release this month and DHS expects to award the contract late next month or in early August. Santana said she expects the first pieces of the system to be running by October.
Down the road is a human resources management system. In March, the agency issued a request for quotations, in which it estimated that it would shortly issue a blanket purchasing agreement with a ceiling of $175 million.
DHS brass have high expectations for this system as well.
In February, DHS secretary Tom Ridge told the House Homeland Security Select Committee that DHS' HR practices would be 'mission-centered, fair and flexible by rewarding top performers.' In other words, vendors who hope to trot out a standard-issue government HR system will find themselves going back to the workshop for major modifications.
A prototype should be running by next January, with a full implementation in place by 2007. DHS CIO Steven Cooper said a human resources team to evaluate existing systems and develop a mission plan and architecture is being put in place.
Each of the projects will be built on studies DHS performed last year. 'The first thing we did was spend 45 days just to get the road map down, so we knew where we were going,' Santana said.
'I don't envy the task at all, having experienced it on a smaller scale,' said the Commerce Department's James Taylor. He should know: As deputy chief financial officer and director of financial management at Commerce, Taylor reduced 12 finance systems to three.
'The task of trying to integrate these systems is absolutely daunting,' Taylor said.
Emerge2 will not be Santana's first job in herding agency needs into one system. Before joining DHS, she was chief architect for the Defense Department's Business Management Enterprise Architecture, overseeing the development of a blueprint for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service's integration of hundreds of financial management systems. It was a job that had both technical and cultural hurdles.
In April last year, then-DHS chief financial officer Bruce Carnes recruited Santana for the job of 'improving resource management for DHS,' Santana said. She joined last June.Seeking unity
Though the task is in some ways similar, Defense and DHS have significant differences in their structures. 'DHS is becoming a single organization,' she said, while Defense is made up of 'separate entities that will remain separate but need interoperability.'
Santana's first priority was a strategy for putting a system in place; her second, to find the financial and technical expertise to implement the system. By September, DHS' Investment Review Board had approved the broad outlines of Emerge2.
Santana said Emerge2 as will provide all of DHS' directorates with functions for budgets, accounting and reporting, cost management, asset management, and acquisition and grants management. She said she wants the system to be Web-based and interoperable with existing systems. It will replace or interface with more than 118 systems.
In order to keep Emerge2 in line with the agency's enterprise architecture, Cooper's office named three lead architects'George Brundage, Amy Wheelock and Charles Thomas'to help Santana's office evaluate the mission needs for Emerge2. The CIO's office also will contribute architects to the agency's human resource efforts.
Santana vowed not to get weighed down by the minutiae of technical choices.
'One of the key lessons I learned is that, when working on large-scale projects, the focus should be on the business case need and the desired results and not the end product,' Santana said. 'If you focus on the business cases, the end product will be a natural and logical extension.'
To promote this idea, Santana has been using the word 'process' to replace 'system' wherever it appears in presentation materials. IT personnel were not even part of the original meetings with the program offices that would use the system.
'Our focus is on truly identifying the business needs and then finding the technology that can deliver on those needs. We are software agnostic and our goal is to identify a solution that meets those identified needs. It all starts with the business requirements,' Santana said.
Integration among multiple systems is often as much a cultural challenge as a technical one.
'The hardest part of all is meeting the needs and desires of the users' community,' Taylor said. 'The users really do become attached to what they are using, even if they hated it when it first was implemented.'
Santana said meeting with users was key. Managers of one finance department, for example, were resistant to the idea of an enterprisewide general finance system because, they said, they had special procedures. Once Santana's team sat down with personnel from the office, they found all that was required was a checkbox and few extra questions. A lot of the other functionality was duplicated with the more general finance system.
Another part of the effort involved developing a common terminology.
'We put the grants people and the contractors in the same room and forced them to work out some common terms,' Santana said during a recent conference. She had found that the meanings of such seemingly simple terms as 'business objects' and 'data module' can differ from party to party.Speaking in one tongue
Santana said agreeing on standard definitions was critical, 'so that we all speak the same language.'
Involving people in the process also helps them accept it. Before the release of the RFP, all the participating agencies got the chance to review the requirements, both to express concerns or give their formal blessings, Santana said. Although the review extended the procurement cycle by another month, Santana's office used the feedback to better address the needs of users.
The Coast Guard, for instance, requested that the system better accommodate boats and remote locations that do not have constant network connections.
Likewise, getting the eventual users of Emerge2 involved will be crucial to its success. Cooper's office itself has no direct jurisdiction over the IT systems such as finance'they fall under the offices directly in charge of those systems.
The House Homeland Security Select Committee recently drafted legislation to move the CIO office up the chain of command in order to have more direct control over IT systems. But until that happens, Cooper said he'll have to rely on good business sense to persuade managers to jettison a legacy system. The new system must be more effective and efficient, and better serve the mission objectives than the old one. Otherwise, there would be no reason to replace the legacy system.
'The approach we are taking is to try to base it on facts and data, rather than emotion,' Cooper said. Using portfolio manager software from ProSight Inc. of Portland, Ore., Cooper's office plans to measure the value of each existing program using a set of business rules and evaluation criteria. The results would be presented to the offices in charge of the systems. If a new system saves money and increases efficiency, the offices would, presumably, welcome it.
While Santana forges ahead with Emerge2, DHS officials are starting to plan for a human resources system, Cooper said. Last year, the department conducted a study of HR best practices, publishing the results in October. DHS and the Office of Personnel Management also assembled a design team of managers and employees, human resources experts and union representation.
Eager to break out of the standard government practices, the team focused on a number of areas: pay, performance management, classification, labor relations, adverse actions and appeals.
'These are the six areas where DHS has flexibility to deviate from statutory civil service rules,' the report noted. The team, led by DHS director of human resources policy Kay Frances Dolan, human resources senior adviser Melissa Allen and key personnel at the Office of Personnel Management, interviewed HR experts at federal agencies, state and local agencies and companies in the private sector.
The team had arrived at some unique findings. An HR system should be able to handle employees as they move in and out of DHS to and from other agencies'and Congress has given the department a lot more flexibility to move employees around than other agencies have. Employees wanted a streamlined appeals process for disputes. And DHS wants a system that can iden-tify and reward top performers, a change from most government HR systems.
In creating Emerge2 and a separate HR system, DHS faces two challenges'among many'that Cooper refers to as 'changing the wheels on a moving car.' GCN staff writer Wilson P. Dizard III contributed to this story.
The Homeland Security Department is still struggling to get a handle on the hundreds of systems that make up its back-office operations.
Last year, DHS did an inventory of all of its IT systems. In functions such as budgeting, finance, recruiting and personnel management, it found a lot of systems'and a lot of redundancy.
The inventory found more than 300 systems that could be classified as handling back-office functions, and they frequently overlapped, especially in human resources, financial management and procurement.
DHS leaders want to consolidate those systems into a service-oriented architecture in which functions needed by all agencies could be handled by enterprisewide applications.
The inventory, ordered by CIO Steve Cooper's office, found that DHS human resources departments had only eight discrete business processes, each of which is composed of multiple subprocesses. Financial-management departments had six. Yet the systems supporting these processes numbered in the dozens.
'Within these two particular sets of business activities,' the report said, 'there is an extensive amount of existing infrastructure within legacy agency organizations that could present DHS with opportunities for re-engineering and consolidation.'
Translation: DHS could slash the number of applications for these services, saving money and streamlining the infrastructure.
Along with the inventory, Cooper's office released what it called a 'Target Enterprise Architecture' to guide the alignment of the agency's IT investments to match its mission.
Cooper plans to use the EA to delete redundant business systems, as well as those that don't fit DHS mission objectives, and to redirect other systems'including back-office systems'into the service-oriented architecture.
Under a service-oriented architecture, one agencywide enterprise application will provide each function, such as human resources. All DHS offices would use the app, eliminating the need for each component agency to maintain its own system. Storage for the data from these applications would also be consolidated.
At least, that's the plan.