IT workers feared President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget request would arrive with deep cuts, and many were relieved when the White House proposed a 1.7 percent increase in IT spending.
Still, the plan is not without its pain points. Remove the boosts for defense spending and cybersecurity, and most agencies will have to meet the same IT goals with less money.
That’s not an impossible task.
Retire Legacy IT to Open Up New Opportunities
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s migration to Google’s cloud email services gets a mention in the administration’s IT budget proposal as something other agencies should emulate. But the retirement of legacy servers that accompanied that modernization has since opened up other cost-saving possibilities.
“Over time, as Google has rolled out additional features, we’ve been able to leverage that,” says NOAA Deputy CIO Doug Perry. For example, the agency is now using the Google Hangouts app for videoconferencing, which allows it to retire dedicated hardware and conferencing rooms.
Greg Gershman, who worked with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to rescue HealthCare.gov, says too few agencies take advantage of opportunities to retire legacy IT.
“Typically, when an agency moves to the cloud, it does so with one application and then uses its legacy apps in the background,” says Gershman, who is now CEO of a software engineering firm. “This drives up costs over time, because although you’ve moved your new apps to the cloud, you can’t sunset support for the old applications.”
Explore Public-Private Partnerships
Perry points to another type of cooperation with the private sector: NOAA’s Big Data Project.
In this initiative, launched in 2015, NOAA provides a feed of its data — some 20 terabytes a day— to companies such as IBM and Microsoft. The data is given to the companies’ customers on the condition that it’s also made freely available to everyone else.
The setup is a win-win. “We don’t have to invest in infrastructure, and yet we can get our data out to the public,” Perry says.
Leverage Strategic Sourcing and Shared Services
IT leaders also can make the most of their funding by purchasing services differently.
Leveraging government buying power via strategic sourcing (buying services and measuring their output to yield a continuous cycle of cost savings and quality improvements) and shared services (consolidating duplicate procurements for economies of scale) have long been on agency to-do lists. But few have taken full advantage of these opportunities.
“I would recommend to any agency that has not already done strategic sourcing to do it right away because it’s easy money,” says Jane Wiseman, an Innovations in American Government fellow at Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. “I would hire an analytics officer, and I would try for some process improvements.”
Yet, according to an October 2016 Government Accountability Office study, the Department of Homeland Security applied strategic-sourcing arrangements to only 44 percent of its IT spending; four other agencies did worse. “Agencies were missing opportunities to leverage their buying power and more effectively acquire IT services,” the report states.
In terms of shared services, Perry points to NOAA’s experience putting cellphones on the Commerce Department’s plan. “We saved $80,000 the first year we went to the department’s negotiated plan,” he says. “We got a much better rate with that shared pool.”
Don’t Forget the Little Things to Cut Costs
Wiseman’s research at Harvard’s Ash Center abounds with examples of state and local governments unearthing savings through less innovative approaches such as proper power management of computers and requiring employees to share printers.
But ignoring those steps isn’t confined to government agencies, she noted. Private companies also continue to neglect them.
“It’s not just in the public sector,” she says. “It’s everywhere.”