Joint Chiefs raise bar on IT

Joint Chiefs raise bar on IT

Comparing operations against those of industry will be useful, officials say

By Drew Robb

Special to GCN

Performance measurements are becoming a way of life in government in the wake of the National Performance Review and the Information Technology Management Reform Act.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, are taking it a step further. Rather than making a comparison against an earlier Defense Department baseline, the Pentagon's senior echelon is comparing its IT operations against those of world-class commercial organizations.

'We hope to capitalize on the good ideas and processes currently in use to help refine how our networks are managed and used,' said a representative of the office.''A comparison to corporate measures will give us an idea of how we're doing and where we need to improve.'

On the move

This move comes as part of a $327,000,
4 1/2-month acquisition support contract awarded to Performance Engineering Corp. of Fairfax, Va., to help the Joint Chiefs office outsource its desktop PC and LAN support services.

The contract will encompass the daily administration of some 125 servers and 4,000 user terminals at the Pentagon and an off-site backup location. Both networks run Microsoft Windows NT.

'We will be assessing the performance of a classified and unclassified network of over 3,000 seats, gathering data and analyzing future needs,' PEC project manager Joe Simpson said. 'This will incorporate best-of-breed performance benchmarks from the business world in order to maximize the level of service received.'

The results will help determine the future course of technology infrastructure.

The metrics PEC collects are being assessed against a corporate database that contains the best IT performers in the business world. Performance improvement consultant Compass America Inc. of Reston, Va., compiled the database.

As part of the evaluation, a large-scale data collection project is under way in the Joint Chiefs office.

It will include service level indicators such as help desk resolution rate, response time, time to execute changes, user satisfaction, monthly downtime and total costs per client. The goal is to bring the Pentagon's desktop PC and LAN infrastructure into step with the most advanced IT players in the commercial world.

'The pace of modern life demands that individuals keep on learning in order to stay abreast of developments, not only in a given discipline but to understand the forces that shape society itself,' said Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

'We intend to upgrade our unclassified'network by improving the infrastructure and implementing asynchronous transfer mode on the backbone, consistent with the'rest of the Pentagon,' the representative said.''In the future, we are interested in possibly implementing a terminal server arrangement, at least on a portion of our network, as a way to lower total cost of ownership.''

To effectively reduce costs while increasing IT productivity, the Joint Chiefs office has seen the value of detailed analysis of its operations at the sub-process level.

'Conventional benchmarks are seriously limited in their ability to drive meaningful performance improvement,' Compass America president David Burkett said. 'To find hidden costs and opportunities, the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff organization is engaged in drilling down to examine the processes within processes. Only through such a peeling-the-onion approach can an organization execute an effective strategy to achieve and maintain best-of-breed performance.'

High costs in specific areas can be hidden, for example, if only high-level indicators are measured.

An assessment of service levels and efficiency, for instance, could detect that full-time equivalents costs are too high but would not uncover why.

By drilling down to a sub-process level, the help desk could show up as a red flag. A deeper look could uncover the explanation for high help desk costs per seat. Armed with such data, management could then act to reduce costs.

Through these methods, the Joint Chiefs office plans to greatly reduce its outsourcing costs while increasing the quality of service and providing users with the highest levels of technology available.

'The figures will be compared against the performance of world-class commercial organizations,' Simpson said. 'The results will be used in determining the future course of Joint Chiefs technology infrastructure.'

As the Defense Department ended its year 2000 work, in senior circles there was a growing understanding of the positives to the evolution.

'There is more senior-level appreciation for IT than ever before, including an acute awareness that the government needs to keep pace with industry,' Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said. 'Indeed, we may someday look back on Y2K as a blessing ' that forced America to face realities of a rapidly changing information-based world.'

How the Forutune 500 elite measure up

Why measure government IT perfomance against that of top companies?

'To continually improve the efficiency of their IT operations, organizations must measure performance on an ongoing basis and consistently compare results against best-of-breed performers,' Compass America Inc. president David Burkett says.

Based on an investigation of the IT operations of hundreds of Fortune 500 companies, Compass America has compiled detailed benchmarks. Here's how the best of the best perform:

  • Total cost per client: $3,000 per year
  • Support cost per client: $700
  • Support productivity: 119 desktop PCs per full-time employee
  • Number of problems per user: 15 peryear

  • Downtime per month: 60 minutes per user
  • Time spent in self-support, per user per week: 34 minutes
  • Clients per printer: 5
  • Clients per server: 41
  • Software costs per client system per year: $182
  • Hardware costs per client system per year: $844
  • Gigabytes of addressable storage per server: 18.9
  • Server storage per client system: 600M
    n'User time spent on informal training per year: 7.3 days
  • Cost of training per user per year: $6

To receive a complete copy of the benchmark report, contact Alex Kozlov at

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