Shared services require a solid business case, IT leaders say

The key to developing a successful shared services strategy is figuring out where pooling resources can bring the greatest benefit and making a solid business case for it, government information technology leaders said Thursday.

If executives aim too high, the IT leaders said, they'll be stymied by agencies and divisions that insist their financial or human resources systems have too many quirks to be integrated into a larger system.

"Our biggest problem isn't technical, it's cultural," said Cheryl Rogers, director of the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Information Technology Optimization. "How do we get people to trust that centralized delivery models will meet their service needs?"

Rogers was speaking during a panel discussion sponsored by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council, or ACT-IAC, an organization that includes government officials and IT industry professionals.

Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel has made shared services a hallmark of his tenure. By combining similar systems within or across agencies, VanRoekel has said, government can save money on new systems and cut down on proprietary architectures.

VanRoekel has ordered agencies to come up with plans to move two agency-specific systems to shared interagency platforms by the end of 2012 and plans to release a governmentwide shared services strategy by April.

The move to shared services is being aided by a governmentwide shift to cloud computing, which will require many government agencies to standardize the software they use to take advantage of the cloud's low-cost storage model, and by a related push to close down and consolidate federal data centers.

The data center consolidation program in particular is giving many agencies an opportunity to look closely at their infrastructure and to point out possibilities for shared services, Rogers said.

The shared services strategy also is buoyed by tight budgets, according to panelists.

"That's increased the willingness to look at different opportunities because every organization is trying to leverage those dollars as far as they possibly can," said Mike Parker, deputy CIO at the Treasury Department. "Those barriers in the past of 'I want to build my own' are coming down quickly."