Federal CIO pushes for new systems, shared services

Agency information technology shops often spend so much time and money trying to get the full value from old investments that there are not enough resources left to try something new, federal Chief Information Officer Steven Van Roekel said Friday.

The result is agencies pay more in the long run to maintain old technology and are saddled with sudden funding challenges when those systems finally break down, the CIO said in an address sponsored by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council group.

"We have such a reliance on sunk costs that we chew the 'deliver new value' slice of the pie down to almost nothing," he said of federal IT budgeting. "So much of your spend goes into a mentality of 'I've always done it that way.' We really need a new perspective to think about how do we take 15 percent or so of old maintenance costs and turn that into value across the federal portfolio."

The speech was VanRoekel's third public address since being named CIO in August. Earlier this month, he outlined a shared services strategy aimed at consolidating IT functions, first within divisions and then at agency and interagency levels.

Previous interdepartmental sharing plans, such as the line of business model developed during the George W. Bush administration, have focused on taking complex operations, such as human resources systems, and consolidating them under a single division, VanRoekel said. By contrast, he said, the new shared services strategy will take a "little to big" approach, starting with very simple systems that cost less but are easier to consolidate.

VanRoekel's office is working on a report that breaks down the federal IT enterprise into a number of common categories that might be ripe for shared services, he said. That report was released to agency CIOs for comment Friday and will be opened for public comment soon, he said.

He also stressed the importance of moving more of the government's IT infrastructure to private sector-owned cloud storage. That will allow agencies to pay for functions such as email and desktop support as an annual operational expenditure rather than shell out large, sporadic capital expenditures to buy new systems.

The government expects to save roughly $5 billion annually by 2015 by transferring one-fourth of its IT enterprise to the cloud. Private sector companies generally havenot saved that much by transitioning to the cloud, but still benefited from new efficiencies provided by cloud storage, such as accessing email and other systems from multiple devices.