How to Plan It
How to Plan It<@VM>Q&A: HUD's Debra Stouffer
- By Richard W. Walker
- Feb 17, 2002
Customs CIO S.W. 'Woody' Hall says budgets and schedules for a project mean nothing without a clear road map and an overarching strategy to put them in context.
Without meticulous planning, a modernization effort can become a house of cards. A shakily constructed foundation risks the collapse of the entire edifice.
Like any structural design, a modernization project should begin with an aesthetic: a clear, coherent vision of the entire endeavor and its final look.
'You have to create a big-picture vision of the totality of [the project] before you can do any tactical planning,' said S.W. 'Woody' Hall, Customs Service CIO. 'People tend to think of schedules and budgets and milestones and all of those things, but they really don't mean much unless you can put them into the context of the total outcome.'
A preliminary but crucial step in formulating that vision and a strategic plan for modernization is to set up a program office and create an integrated project team.
It's the IPT's task to review current business processes and the technologies that support them and establish technical and performance requirements for a new system.Early dividends
In its Circular A-11 Capital Programming Guide, Supplement to Part 3, the Office of Management and Budget calls it addressing the performance gap.
What an IPT comes up with can have a major impact on the direction of the plan. Two years ago, for instance, a Defense Logistics Agency IPT looked at models for modernizing its business systems and came back with an eye-opening conclusion: off-the-shelf software would do the trick.
'This was a huge breakthrough for us because for 35 years we wrote our own software and that was how we enabled the business process,' said Mae De Vincentis, DLA's director of information operations and CIO.
Once requirements have been laid out, planners must grapple with what OMB terms pesky questions before investing in new IT assets.
Foremost among these: Does the business process tagged for modernization really have to be performed by the government?
If the answer is no, OMB's simple instruction is to eliminate or privatize it.
Once the decision has been made to go ahead, the next critical parts in planning include building a business case and charting an enterprise architecture, experts said.
Indeed, the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 and OMB guidance documents, mainly Circular A-130, require business cases for new IT investments.
The General Accounting Office cuts to the very essence of the business case in a March 2001 report on the IRS' custodial accounting project:
'Business cases are an essential tool for disciplined investment management, providing the quantitative and qualitative analytical basis for making informed investment selection and control decisions and for evaluating whether investments actually deliver promised business value.'
In other words, you have to demonstrate the project's value to the agency and its bang for the buck.
Moreover, in the IRS report, GAO noted that in scrutinizing business cases OMB looks not only for a breakdown of the costs and benefits of the proposed system but also an analysis of the cost-effectiveness of alternative systems.
A forceful business case also will help you build support for your project, both inside and outside the agency.
But a House Appropriations Committee senior staff member warned that a strong business case still does not guarantee that the Hill will go for the project.
'It's a necessary but not sufficient condition,' the staffer said.
Both Congress and OMB also put significant weight on developing an enterprise architecture as a central part of modernization planning.
In a May 2001 report that criticized the Defense Department for the lack of an enterprise architecture in its plans for financial-operations modernization, GAO said:
'Our experience with federal agencies has shown that attempting a major modernization effort without a complete and enforceable enterprise architecture results in systems that are duplicative, are not well integrated, are unnecessarily costly to maintain and interface and do not effectively optimize mission performance.'
Added a senior OMB official: 'We have consistently said that you should do enterprise architecture and planning work before you start any kind of modernization. That way, you can ensure that you identify the organizational and process changes that need to happen in order to leverage whatever the IT solution is.'
What is an enterprise architecture?
In its DOD report, GAO said that an enterprise architecture systematically captures in models, diagrams and narratives 'the full breadth and depth' of an agency's mission-based operations, describing both business functions and IT infrastructure.
GAO concluded that an enterprise architecture provides an IT capital-investment road map for moving to a modernized environment.
Stephen Kalish, president of the Federal Sector-Civil Group at Computer Sciences Corp., the prime contractor for the IRS' huge modernization program, compared an enterprise architecture to a blueprint for building a house.
'What would a general contractor do without a blueprint to work from?' he said.Required reading
Most of the planning-phase elements, such as constructing a business case, are incorporated into various federal reporting requirements and mandates, many of which are linked to the budget process.
To take one example, Sections 53 and 300B of OMB Circular A-11 on preparing and submitting budget estimates require that agencies provide detailed information on IT investments and acquisition plans.
'The 300B process is really just a matter of making sure you have a good business case,' said G. Edward DeSeve, former deputy director for management at OMB and one of the authors of the agency's A-11 guidance.
While not all reporting requirements are related to the budget process, they're all of a piece to OMB officials.
For OMB, the full picture of a modernization program includes reports under the Government Information Security Reform Act'signed into law in October 2000 as an amendment to the Government Paperwork Elimination Act'as well as plans for making the transition to the Web under GPEA.
It's vital not to look at the raft of federal regulations and mandates as impediments to modernization.
Better to make them work for you, said Debra Stouffer, deputy CIO for IT reform at the Housing and Urban Development Department and co-chair of the CIO Council's capital planning and IT management committee.
'The key is to understand the federal regulations and mandates and apply them appropriately and effectively,' she said.
In that vein, planners should include procurement officers in the planning team, experts said.
'Planning and acquisition have to be in lockstep,' DeSeve said. 'Procurement is both a front-end process and a continuing process. One of the things people forget about in modernization is that the new contracts tend to be performance-based, which requires a significant amount of continual negotiation about the terms of the contract.'
It's also prudent to bring in outside experts to help guide the planning phase.
'It makes a lot more sense to get a partner on board right up front to help work with defining requirements, governance structures and strategies to go forward,' said James Flyzik, Treasury Department CIO and vice chairman of the CIO Council. 'You take on the [vendor] as a business modernization partner as opposed to a traditional contractor.'
The Customs Service, for example, brought on Mitre Corp. of McLean, Va., a non-profit company that provides IT support to the government, to help plan and design the initial phase of its Automated Commercial Environment effort.
Mitre also helped Customs write a request for proposals for a prime contractor to design, build and implement new modernized systems. Last year, a $1.3 billion contract was awarded to a team led by IBM Global Services Inc.Piece by piece
As the planning moves into the design phase, projects should be broken down into manageable chunks that have their own sets of metrics and individual business cases, expert say.
'That way, you can make some progress, measure some progress and get some results along the way so you're not waiting years and years before you see any kind of results at all,' Flyzik said.
Here's a final word to the wise about modernization planning: It never ends.
'Planning is an ongoing process,' Stouffer said. 'You have to make adjustments throughout the lifecycle of a project. Monitoring progress and adjusting plans accordingly, including costs, schedules and risks, allows you to control the project instead of the project controlling you.'
Debra Stouffer is deputy CIO for IT reform at the Housing and Urban Development Department and co-chairwoman of the CIO Council's capital planning and IT management committee. She also recently was tapped by the Office of Management and Budget to draft a proposal for a governmentwide architecture.What are the first steps in planning a modernization project?
The first and most critical step is to build the foundation by conducting a rigorous analysis of the people, processes and technological factors necessary to complete the project.What are the primary ways of accomplishing that?
You do it by developing a sound, well-planned business case, securing buy-in from key executives and stakeholders, and analyzing [business] processes and re-engineering them, if necessary.What are the elements of building a business case?
The business case analyzes and documents the need for modernization, its costs and benefits, feasibility, risk and the project's resource requirements.
The business case should focus on business issues and how technology can be leveraged to provide a business solution that will result in specific and measurable improvements'we call it return on investment'in an agency's ability to meet its mission and goals.When in the planning process should you examine the business processes?
Before you develop any technology solution. Implementing technology without simplifying or standardizing business processes drives costs up and service levels down'the exact opposite of the desired result.Ultimately, what's the role of technology in modernization?
The greatest technology in the world will not succeed if it relies on inefficient and ineffective business processes. Technology is simply an enabler or tool to be leveraged to improve operations and processes.
All too often, projects begin without creating the foundation for success. As a result, many do not succeed. Money, time and staff resources are wasted, daily operations can be impeded and the IT organization continues its reputation for an inability to deliver successful IT solutions.