No testing the waters at the Mint

When the Mint set out to improve its IT business cases, it found itself knee-deep in portfolio management.

As a result, the Treasury Department agency will not only improve the quality of its reporting to the Office of Management and Budget, but stands to put its projects more on target and make its data transparent and interchangeable, Mint CIO Jerry Horton said.

'Everybody's kind of putting their toes in the water seeing what's out there. I think we decided to jump in up to our knees,' Horton said about trying to find a system to automate processes to develop business cases.

Mint programmers wrote a business dashboard application, which the Treasury's IRS, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are also testing. A dashboard takes information from existing systems'business case data, for example'and lets an executive view and determine current status by traffic color code: red, green, yellow.

If there is a problem, managers can drill down in the data and look at specific issues. The dashboard is a basic Java application, so it can run on most any system, Horton said.

The software was just the first step. Horton is planning to buy a portfolio management system, which will be Windows- or Unix-based, before the end of the year. Each commercially available product is comprehensive but looks at portfolio management from a slightly different point of view, he said.

Horton said he plans to track all of the Mint's business cases and grade them over two or three years. Transparency will enable the Mint's business units to see what programs are in place, what the financial benefits are, and what happens if one or two projects are pulled back.

The Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security departments and Food and Drug Administration have shared with the Mint what they've learned in portfolio management development.

We'll start

'We're hoping to take the software, be able to leapfrog them in terms of the process, and then be able to publish that information as a best practice, so that other people can look at it and hopefully leapfrog us,' Horton said.

A key aspect of the system will be its ability to interchange data. 'We want to be able to enter data once and be able to use it forever,' he said.

Whatever IT changes are done at the Mint level, such as migrating to Extensible Markup Language or incorporating another standard, then the data will automatically follow. It will not have to be rekeyed into multiple systems as it changes.

Portfolio management shows business units how money is spent. Horton went through a manual budget-forecasting session last year for the fiscal 2004 budget. 'We're in a hurry. Obviously we're moving toward the '04 budget cycle. And we'd like to come up with that transparency as soon as possible,' he said.

The Mint will also use its portfolio management system to track security for reporting required by the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, such as looking at compliance issues, specific programs, and the ability to monitor metrics to show security at the business unit level.

'I think that's one of the biggest drivers in the long term. You'll be able to roll all this up into the application and be able to automate the delivery,' he said.

Currently, FISMA reporting is done by hand on a quarterly basis.

'You have to track the data in multiple locations and be able to make some qualitative assessment of it in the process, rather than just having it all ready in the system and fully interchangeable,' he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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