Warren Suss | Infrastructure and the bottom line

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Warren Suss

Federal information technology infrastructure, and organizations responsible for operating, maintaining and upgrading it, have never been more central to internal government operations or to delivering essential services to our nation's citizens. Yet with today's unprecedented budget squeeze, we are facing increasing pressure to reduce IT infrastructure spending.

Two examples: The Air Force is taking 50 percent of IT officer billets off the books, with plans to address the cutbacks through reorganization, centralization and efficiency improvements. This year, the Army has committed to a 5 percent reduction in its IT personnel and a 10 percent reduction in its IT contractor workforce. Civilian agencies face cutbacks of a similar magnitude.

IT managers are caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock represents the multiple impacts of tight budgets ' pressure to hold the line on overall spending and to reduce government, military and contractor IT personnel. The hard place represents the growing importance of IT infrastructure in the functioning of our government and military capabilities.

So what's an IT manager to do? Until federal infrastructure managers make a more direct, measurable case for their contribution to program-level performance, IT infrastructures will continue to be perceived as cost centers, not profit or value centers. In the corporate world, as long as you're seen as a cost center, management focuses on how to take costs out of your operation. In the government world, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and most senior agency executives focus on how to squeeze additional costs out of our federal infrastructure and operations. They don't really get the connection between infrastructure investments and improvements in program performance because, in most cases, we haven't made the connection. We're building highways, and our political system is focused on the goods and services being delivered, not the highways.

The key to success in today's tough environment is the business case. Congress, OMB and the federal chief information officers' community have identified loads of opportunities to deliver value in the federal IT space. The long list includes improved efficiency and effectiveness in applying IT to grants, loans, criminal justice information, military logistics, electronic health records, travel, payroll, budgeting and collaboration. The challenge is making abusiness case that shows how infrastructure helps agencies perform these functions better and how increased investments in IT infrastructure will deliver tangible results.

That doesn't mean giving up on cost-saving initiatives. There's still more to be done through network, server and data center consolidation; network and system optimization; and improved processes for desktop and seat management. But we're approaching a point of diminishing returns on IT infrastructure cost savings. The government and its industry partners are already optimizing infrastructure on a day-to-day basis. Many agencies have already implemented state-of-the-practice network and data center infrastructure that is cost-effective and secure, with high reliability, availability and robustness. Others aren't there yet but are developing strategies to get there.

Stand up to cost pressures with the weapon you understand best: information. And use it to make the business case that links your infrastructure investments to the results our nation depends on.

Warren Suss is president of Suss Consulting in Jenkintown, Pa. (Warren.suss@sussconsulting.com.)

About the Author

Warren Suss is president of Suss Consulting, a federal IT consulting firm headquartered in Jenkintown, Pa.

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