modernization (chombosan/


IT modernization: Not a case of rip and replace

The government’s outdated existing IT portfolio is aging and poses significant security and operational risks. Modernization would improve the ability of these IT systems to deliver, but many agencies have been stymied by the high costs (up to 70 percent of IT budgets), lack of funding and the risks associated with modernization efforts.  Consequently, agencies must now look to manage and enhance their IT systems strategically.   

In 2016, the Office of Management and Budget issued guidance to agencies for the IT modernization process.  Agencies must develop a systematic and comprehensive approach to building a modernization plan -- one that moves IT from old tech to new tech in a way that transforms the organization and furthers an agency’s mission.

Start with the end in mind

While agencies are already required to prepare updated information resource management strategic plans and enterprise roadmaps on a regular basis, they will be challenged first to align these documents with modernization goals. The most successful agencies will use modernization as an opportunity to implement IT solutions that drive transformation of both their technology platform and their overall organization. Therefore, establishing modernization objectives and connecting those to organizational objectives is key.

This is when each agency must determine whether its people have the skillsets to build a comprehensive plan, or business case, for its modernization efforts. Strategic-minded folks can think through how IT modernization can evolve the organization and its mission, but the modernization team also should include individuals representing the technology and user experience viewpoints. These perspectives often are sought too late in the planning process, limiting the scope of what ultimately can be accomplished.

Together, the group should examine the agency’s strategic direction -- its mission, vision and existing enterprise roadmap -- through the lens of modernization. Is modernization just one or two systems? Will new systems and solutions fundamentally change the way the agency works or meets its mission?  The output of this exercise is a concise set of objectives that reflect what the organization hopes to accomplish through the modernization initiative, including any associated revisions to the enterprise roadmap that are appropriate at this stage. Together these must be used consistently to maintain focus and alignment.

Build the plan

In addition to a well-conceived enterprise roadmap, an agency may also want to consider developing a detailed project management plan. At a minimum, the PMP outlines the approach, key activities, deliverables, timelines, dependencies and resources needed for each phase of modernization. With the limited amount of information available at the start, it may be challenging to build an accurate, detailed plan for each phase, so be sure to document all assumptions: there will be plenty of opportunities to modify and update the plan as it progresses. It is particularly important to identify the key activities in each phase, as this will determine what skillsets and knowledge the modernization team must possess. The PMP will highlight the dependencies, lead times and resource needs -- including potential skillset gaps -- that often stall projects before they get moving. Consider building a communication plan to ensure the right agency stakeholders are engaged and hold an issue/risk brainstorming session to identify any potential barriers.

Staff for success

As previously mentioned, each agency should take an honest look at its current personnel. This analysis should not be limited just to employees’ skillsets but should also consider resource availability. Often, the people with requisite skills in an organization are already overloaded. As availability of the appropriate resources and skillsets will vary, now is the time to fill any gaps. It’s worth considering an outside agency for help. Whether it involves reprioritization, training of internal staff or procuring external support, take into account the lead time involved with getting these resources and start the process early.

As an agency begins the IT modernization process, it should have a set of key strategic goals that align with its updated enterprise roadmap, a realistic plan for executing a modernization assessment and a course of action to address staffing requirements and any identified gaps. However, before diving into system identification and prioritization, development and execution in subsequent modernization phases, agencies should  commit to evaluating the whole organization to determine its best path forward.

About the Author

Jason Ferreri is director of Sapient Consulting | Public Sector.

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