Shawn P. McCarthy

COMMENTARY

25-point plan paralysis? Build momentum with a few quick hits.

Start the move to the cloud with e-mail and shared services

For the past several weeks, members of the federal IT community have been discussing the impact of federal CIO Vivek Kundra's 25-point plan for improving federal IT. Released in mid-December, the plan promises a more streamlined federal IT infrastructure. But the plan itself can seem daunting in its ambition and potential complexity.

Rather than staring at the large document and suffering from analysis paralysis, sometimes the best way to start down a long migration path is simply to take the first few steps. If your agency finds it challenging to move the needle on infrastructure improvements, a few quick hits might help make the challenge seem far less daunting.

Complying with all requirements of the 25-point plan will take extensive planning and project management. But the following items could be the low-hanging fruit of IT reform. Consider the following as possible places for your agency to start.

Cloud first, cloud fast

One IT solution receiving high-profile attention in the 25-point plan is cloud computing. The marching orders are cloud first, with the stipulation that every federal department or major agency must move at least one system to the cloud within a year and two more in the following six months. 

If you don't yet have a starting point in mind, look to e-mail as a potential cloud solution.


Related coverage:

Government IT to the cloud: private-sector lessons

Implementing the cloud-first policy? Start with e-mail


E-mail is one of the least complex applications to move to cloud. That's not to say it will be easy. The General Services Administration has already announced that Google will soon host its mail servers, allowing GSA employees to get their mail directly from a cloud provider. Los Angeles is doing the same thing. The Interior Department is taking a similar approach, but it's working with Microsoft as its service provider.

Things get more complicated if your e-mail system integrates with other applications, such as a case management or contact management system or one that tracks legal document delivery. In those cases, further customization might be necessary. Major cloud providers are aware of special government needs and are working on integration tools.

Besides e-mail, one of the next-most common cloud solutions is human resources management. In this case, the solution is likely to come from government-operated shared-services centers. Talk to the Office of Personnel Management and the Commerce Department. Both offer hosted HR systems that other agencies can use. Other cloud solutions to consider include outsourcing infrastructure management or help-desk systems.

In fact, moving to a shared HR solution also could help your agency prepare for another requirement of the 25-point plan: develop a strategy for shared services. The federal CIO's office plans to release a formal strategy for shared services within the next year. But it's possible to get a head start on the effort by understanding that shared-services centers are being consolidated around specific lines of government business, such as HR, financial management, case management and federal health programs.

Start early on budget docs

This year, those complex budget documents known as exhibit 300s and 53s will be revamped to better align with agency budgeting and management processes, The goal is to make them more relevant and useful and ensure that they promote the use of modular development principles.

Those budget submissions are supposed to get easier. But this is a transition year, with a new learning curve. So it's worth following this process more closely this year, dedicating staff members or contractors to the effort and making sure they understand the new budget justifications needed for major Development, Modernization and Enhancement investments and the annual rejustification of DME investments.

Kundra's office also has asked agencies to take their IT investment review boards more seriously, dedicating more hours of review time to proposed projects and integrating the TechStat review model launched last year. TechStat is a face-to-face, evidence-based review of an IT program with OMB and agency leadership.

Get out and interact with industry groups

In its plan, the federal CIO's office states that "in many cases, agencies have been hindered by inadequate communication with industry, which is often driven by myths about what level of vendor engagement is permitted." It's necessary to bust some of those myths. Agencies can help by getting their IT managers out of the office to participate in industry events, technology panels and standards bodies.

The quick hits listed here will only scratch the surface of the much larger issues federal agencies will need to deal with in the next 18 months. But tackling those three will set you down the road toward large-scale IT reform, and they will help your agency start directly working on some of the important points listed in the 25-point plan.

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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