GAO preps investment advice

Agency IT plans need to follow enterprise architectures, GAO's Lester Diamond says.

Henrik G. DeGyor

As pressure increases on agencies to justify their IT investments, the General Accounting Office is preparing a tool to make the job easier. GAO this summer will release its updated IT Investment Management Framework to give agencies a methodology for improving their capital planning and investment control processes.

Lester Diamond, GAO assistant director for IT management, earlier this month said the release will cover the second and third stages of the framework: building an investment foundation and developing a complete investment portfolio.

'We learned what makes a good investment process by seeing how agencies apply it and through looking at the private sector,' Diamond said. 'We've used the framework five or six times for evaluations, so we have learned a lot about it.'

Most agencies, Diamond said, are at the second or third stage. Investment awareness is the first stage; stages 4 and 5 cover improving investments and using IT for strategic outcomes. The framework will detail best practices for stages 4 and 5.

After the first draft version came out in May 2000, about 17 agencies adopted at least some of the framework, Diamond said.

Debra Stouffer, former deputy CIO for IT reform at the Housing and Urban Development Department, embraced the methodology early. Stouffer, who now is the vice president for strategic consulting at DigitalNet Inc. of Herndon, Va., said she used the framework to perform a self-assessment of how HUD managed its IT investments after the agency received criticism for its processes.

'It was very valuable in helping us improve our work plans and update the organization's business plan,' Stouffer said. 'The action plan that came from the self-assessment provided concrete suggestions on how to mature various components of the agency's capital planning process.'

Diamond said the framework has evolved over the past few years and GAO has worked with the Office of Management and Budget and other agencies to develop it further.

Changes in Stage 2'building an investment foundation'demand strong coordination between an investment review board and an enterprise architecture board. Diamond said one board could do both tasks because they are interdependent.

Agencies also will be expected in stage two to link their IT investments more closely with their enterprise architecture, he said. 'We have tried to focus more on controls than on selection in Stage 2,' Diamond said. 'It occurred to us that most organizations have the vast majority of their investments in ongoing work, and you need to capture oversight information from wherever you are putting money.'

Return on investment

GAO might put more emphasis on how agencies select IT to meet their mission objectives during stage three, Diamond added. He said GAO likely will suggest agencies do a simple return-on-investment analysis to show the benefits of the project to the organization as a whole.
Stages 4 and 5 will comprise succession management and forward-looking plans that tie into an agency's enterprise architecture, Diamond said.

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