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How to inspire an IT consolidation culture

In the search to reap the benefits of more efficient IT processes and reduced costs, the federal government has preached a mantra of “consolidate, consolidate, consolidate.” We’ve seen this firsthand as leading partners on the Defense Department's massive Enterprise Information Technology Services Directorate (EITSD) system consolidation at Washington Headquarters Services in 2012. Operations for up to 12,000 users were improved by deploying massive virtualization and consolidation, including email, Active Directory, virtualization, service desk and security services to smaller specialized teams.

Then, in 2015, the Joint Service Provider (JSP) project, an ambitious undertaking which merged the EITSD with the Department of the Army Information Technology Agency, resulted in an estimated savings of $385 million. At the same time, other initiatives -- particularly those involving data centers-- took hold, demonstrating both the challenges and advantages of sweeping consolidation efforts:

  • In 2010, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative responded to the identification of some 2,000 government data centers by requiring agencies to reduce “the cost of data center hardware, software, and operations; shifting IT investments to more efficient computing platforms; (and) promoting the use of Green IT by reducing the overall energy and real estate footprint of government data centers,” among other measures.
  • In 2016, the Data Center Optimization Initiative from the Office of Management and Budget superseded the FDCCI, calling for agencies “to optimize and consolidate data centers to deliver better services to the public while increasing return-on-investment to taxpayers.” By May 2018, the Government Accountability Office reported “mixed” progress on the DCOI, with over half of agencies on target to meet the OMB's consolidation goals by a September 2018 deadline, closing more than 7,220 of an estimated 12,060 data centers. Subsequently, agencies saved $1.62 billion in fiscal years 2016 through 2018, but that fell well short of OMB’s goal of $2.7 billion in savings.

In our experiences with consolidation, we’ve observed that successful outcomes require more than simply tech know-how and resources. The IT implementation staff and agency leaders must come together to inspire a cultural shift so everyone prepares for -- and even welcomes -- the many changes to come. Specifically, we have focused on the following three stages in establishing an agencywide consolidation culture:

Educating the users. It’s understandable for users to resist change, even if that means clinging to legacy and siloed systems that result in inefficiencies and duplicated processes. “Change” means “different,” with the implication of the disruption of day-to-day task management.

That’s why consolidation and agency leaders should combine efforts to ensure that users know what’s going to happen, every step of the way. They must issue memos, send emails and conduct sessions in which they make clear what the consolidation is all about and how it will directly impact users, as well as provide an estimated schedule for every implementation phase. It’s also essential they stress the anticipated benefits -- explaining to users how much the consolidation will enhance performance and generally enrich the workplace through the investment in the most up-to-date  tech tools and operating systems.

Convincing agency IT teams. Internal tech teams may push back as well. They’re human beings, after all, and they may resist consolidation-based efforts to take over their help desks, server operations, network administration, etc. Again, it’s best to promote expected benefits. In the case of EITSD and JSP, we gained much trust by conveying the dramatically improved cybersecurity functions. Keep in mind that IT teams might support 5,000 users with just two or three members looking for patch updates and installing them manually -- a cumbersome, antiquated and ineffective approach. What’s more, these professionals frequently are tasked with non-cybersecurity duties, so an ongoing obligation to monitor/install patches makes them feel “stretched thin.”

Consolidation brings a bigger-picture, enterprise mindset to the equation. The implementation team can demonstrate that it has better, automated tools to monitor for any and all relevant patches and then install them. It can also offer a larger number of dedicated professionals who take over the cybersecurity roles, so agency IT members can focus on their core responsibilities.

Making innovation possible. Like private industry companies, agencies must move toward digital transformation. Two-thirds of organizations are active in pursuing this, according to research from TechTarget. The federal government cannot allow itself to get left behind. Transformation serves as a broader, mission-driven “selling point” of consolidation. It’s difficult -- if not impossible-- to innovate with the latest business apps when agencies rely upon a half dozen different versions of Office, Windows, Adobe Acrobat, etc. Unified configuration management via consolidation represents a fundamental first step in the digital transformation. Without it, agencies can’t even get started.

Consolidations cause a certain level of discomfort, and that’s an unavoidable reality. So it’s advisable for agency decision-makers to acknowledge this and then manage it. They should put themselves in the shoes of employees who will be most affected. They might think back to when a major change impacted their lives.… Perhaps a kitchen renovation included weeks of construction noise, dust and disruption, but, once completed, it resulted in more appealing and higher-functioning living space.

And this may be another convincing way to sell users and internal IT teams on a consolidation. It’s about dispensing with outdated, manual and/or duplicated processes and moving forward with the most current automated, streamlined tools. Ultimately, it makes users better. It makes the agency better. When everyone involved understands this, it paves the way for a successful consolidation.

About the Author

Mike Barnes is senior systems engineer at NetCentrics.


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