DOT lifts the veil on its IT portfolio

Department deploys software to streamline management and meet OMB IT Dashboard requirements

Managing a $3 billion information technology portfolio can be daunting. But when an agency has 13 operating administrations, each with its own culture, management style and resources, the task becomes even more challenging.

That's the burden the Transportation Department faces. Managing IT systems happens at the bureau level, with each agency controlling resources and portfolio investments. However, all the information about those investments and projects has to flow to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.

“That is a big challenge because the [chief information officer's] office does not control the money, the systems or the people,” said H. Giovanni Carnaroli, DOT's associate CIO for IT policy oversight.

DOT's CIO office wanted to move from a project-centric approach to a more transparent, portfolio-based approach. To track and manage IT investments, department officials are implementing the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a set of concepts and policies for managing IT services, developments and operations. Transportation will be able to align people, processes and tools with ITIL, Carnaroli said.

In addition, the CIO’s office has deployed on-demand project and portfolio management software from Métier for capital planning and investment control. The department is using Métier’s WorkLenz software, which structures and analyzes project data to predict problems before they happen.

The software simplifies the collection of data from investment managers, requesting the right information and tapping existing data repositories so the department can comply with Office of Management and Budget policies.

For example, WorkLenz provides a simple interface with the right questions and collection areas for essential program management data elements.

“WorkLenz is a fully integrated toolset,” said Simmons Lough, vice president of engineering at Métier. Inside the portfolio management tool, users have program management, project management, strategic initiatives, risks, scheduling and business cases, he said.

As a result, portfolio managers can ensure that all projects are being conducted in a standard, similar manner, he said.

Reporting and dashboard capabilities let the CIO’s office automate business rules and provide analysis that investment and project managers can review to make sure everyone in DOT is working toward the goals set forth by OMB’s IT Dashboard, Carnaroli said.

The IT Dashboard provides federal agencies and the public with an online window into the details of federal IT investments and provides users with the ability to track the progress of investments over time.

The IT Dashboard displays data received from agency reports to OMB, including information on more than 7,000 federal IT investments and detailed data for nearly 800 of those investments that agencies classify as major, according to the USASpending.gov Web site. The performance data used to track the 800 major IT investments is based on information displayed in agencies' Exhibit 53 and Exhibit 300 reports to OMB.

Exhibit 53 reports provide agencies' budget estimates for IT investments and identifies those that are major investments. Exhibit 300 reports are capital asset plans that OMB uses to assess whether agencies’ programming processes are consistent with OMB policies and guidelines.

Agency CIOs are responsible for evaluating and updating data on a monthly basis. Cost and schedule data and CIO evaluations are entered into the OMB IT Dashboard through a built-in interface. Data entry interfaces are visible only to users with valid credentials after log-in.

OMB is working on adding an Extensible Markup Language-based functionality to  the IT Dashboard that will automate the submission process, Carnaroli said.

“The XML transfer is a functionality that OMB has to implement on their tool,” he said. DOT officials recently received word from OMB’s Office for E-Government and IT that it is ready to proceed, and OMB officials have put DOT in touch with their contractors.

“I expect this is something that may be happening sometime in the fall,” Carnaroli said in reference to the development of the XML interface.

DOT's CIO office learned about WorkLenz from the Federal Aviation Administration, which started using the software to replace a project management tool that didn’t have the flexibility to run reports and analyses. The office has been using the tool for about a year and has seen improvements in several areas.

Optimizing program management reports.

“We have developed a way to submit our CIO’s rating in an objective and automated manner,” Carnaroli said. The OMB IT Dashboard requires CIOs to provide answers to about 20 relevant measures or indicators divided into five categories: risk management, requirements management, contractor oversight, historical performance and human capital.

With its project portfolio management tool, DOT can use scoring criteria, based on objective metrics in each of the major evaluation areas outlined by OMB’s IT Dashboard guidance, to generate reports that assess the performance of projects across the portfolio.

The department can then use OMB’s scoring algorithms and analysis to evaluate investment health and provide insight into risk levels that officials can submit to OMB.

DOT was able to generate this type of program management reporting before OMB required it, Carnaroli said.

Increased visibility across the portfolio.

“We used the [WorkLenz] tool not just to submit Exhibit 300 [information] for OMB but as an integrated portfolio management tool,” Carnaroli said. So the tool brings together information on strategic alignment, on enterprise architecture, and other elements that are not specific to responding to data calls. The tool is a one-stop repository for data used, he said.

Enterprise architecture and capital planning go hand-in-hand, so those disciplines as well as governance are merged as much as possible with investment management at DOT, Carnaroli explained.

Improved cost performance management.

Earned value management is a process for ensuring results from large, complex projects. OMB requires agencies to submit their EVM management data on a quarterly basis. “In the past, we had to do a lot of data calls on a monthly basis,” compiled onto spreadsheets, Carnaroli said.

Now, DOT's CIO Office can import data from EVM systems used by operating administrations or use WorkLenz as an EVM tool.

“We are able at the department level to run a report, just pulling in the data and spinning out a report to OMB without any other need for consolidation.” Carnaroli said.

Modernized IT program management.

“We’ve streamlined the process and improved the quality and run reports to point out deficiencies and discrepancy in the Exhibit 300,” Carnaroli said. That used to be a manual, labor intensive process that required a lot of people.

WorkLenz has an assessment engine that uses smart-form technology, which allows the software to react quickly to government changes, Métier’s Lough said. For example, after Vivek Kundra became the federal CIO, OMB revamped Exhibit 53 and Exhibit 300 for the Capital Planning and Investment Control budget cycle.

Métier completed the work in days after the updates came out because of smart-form technology, Lough said. WorkLenz generated a form that matches the information that OMB is trying to collect.

Ongoing performance evaluation.

Performance evaluations tie into the entire idea of the IT Dashboard, Carnaroli said. “We were leading in what OMB wanted us to do. We wanted to move away from the once-a-year submission of Exhibit 300s.” DOT uses WorkLenz to track progress on a monthly basis, tying it in with the whole idea of EVM, he said. So when OMB came out with the IT Dashboard, the department was able to respond with minimal adjustment.

Project-centric processes out, portfolio management approach in.

p>The goal is to deliver projects within the budget and on schedule. “The big driver was to try to abstract a business value from this portfolio,” trying to see how DOT could use $3 billion worth of IT more strategically and organize its services in a more disciplined manner.

“I cannot say that we’ve matured,” Carnaroli said. “We are trying and will get there. We do have challenges to cross, one of which is funding. It is not centralized.” 

At the department level, officials cannot move funding across individual agencies. One solution is to have managers at the operating agencies realize that they would be more efficient and save money by pooling resources and working with other DOT agencies on similar initiatives, Carnaroli said.

The goal is to bring people together and let them come to the conclusion that it would be a better idea to work together, instead of DOT's headquarters dictating an approach for the operating administrations, he added.

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