Warren Suss | The most important IT decision

Another View | Guest commentary: Why your outsourcing strategy is the most important IT decision you'll make

Warren Suss

The strategy for information technology outsourcing has become the most important decision facing federal IT managers. It's more important than enterprise architecture, a security plan and an infrastructure consolidation road map combined.

Why? Because federal IT managers are paying industry to do most of the work. In many regards, the 'I' in ROI has come to stand for industry.

Consequently, your outsourcing strategy decision is too important to leave in the hands of your acquisition organization. They understand contracting, but they need lots of guidance when it comes to working with industry to tackle tough IT challenges.

The first consideration is how to divvy up project roles and responsibilities between the government and contractors.

If you draw the line the wrong way, you risk outsourcing the government's brain trust in addition to giving up your ability to control and manage your project effectively.

If you load too heavily on the government side, you gain control but lose efficiency.

There are lots of models to follow, and one size doesn't fit all. But consider two recent success stories.

At one extreme, the General Services Administration's Networx program and its predecessors achieved a remarkable 20-year record of exceeding technical and cost objectives by handing most of the responsibility for system ownership, design, development, operations and maintenance to industry.

One key to success has been a strong role for the Interagency Management Council, with active participation from large and small agencies.

GSA has a top-notch program staff, but they have given the IMC final say at every phase of the program from requirements definition to troubleshooting and problem
resolution.

Another ingredient for success is a large menu of services that gives agencies a Sears catalog of services to meet their varying needs.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Defense Information Systems Agency decided to act as its own integrator on the Global Information Grid program.
DISA performed a substantial portion of the high-level engineering and program management.

In addition, it owns and operates most of the electronic and software components ' with the help of contractors.

DISA's decision to buy and run its own railroad allowed it to take advantage of a post-dot-com fire sale on network services and systems.

By acting as its own integrator, DISA beefed up the GIG with the heavy-duty security features demanded by Defense Department and intelligence community users.
The GIG program design also provides the flexibility to swap out network electronics quickly without complex contract renegotiations.

Just as important, DISA has created senior positions and new processes to ensure greater flexibility and responsiveness.

Two enormous, successful federal infrastructure projects; two different approaches to drawing the line between contractor and government responsibilities.

But both agencies have strong program staffs that engaged their users in deciding where to draw the line ' and both let users have it their way.

There's more to the most important IT decision than drawing lines, of course. That will have to be left for another discussion.

But the more federal IT managers recognize how important this decision is, the better their acquisition teams ' and industry partners ' can deliver what's needed.

Warren Suss is president of Suss Consulting. E-mail him at 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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