Moving Your Agency From ‘Lights On’ to IT Transformation

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Keeping most IT dollars tied up in O&M leads to inefficiency in the long run.

This is the first part of two articles on IT transformation. Read the second installment here.

For years, government leaders have faced budget cuts that reduced funding for IT to support government departments and agencies. This created a long-term strain on the IT budgets, leaving little to no funding for new development or IT transformation initiatives.

In such a situation, the “safest” way forward was the “lights-on approach,” which usually focused on operations and maintenance (O&M) of existing siloed and monolithic systems. Many IT leaders grew to fear changes to current systems and infrastructure, equating change with unexpected problems, negative publicity and irrecoverable damage. However, this strategy is anything but safe: It only leads to inefficiency in the long run.

A Government Accountability Office report and ITDashboard.gov data both indicate that agencies spend approximately 70 percent of their IT budgets on operations of legacy infrastructure and maintenance of current systems and applications. The passage of the Modernization of Government Technology Act late last year promises to be a catalyst for change. The Office of Management and Budget sorting through submissions from agencies seeking funds to modernize their outdated technologies under the terms of the MGT Act.

What is the best way to cut operational costs, transform your agency’s IT, make more money available for development, modernization and enhancement, or DM&E, spending, and perhaps qualify for MGT funding?

The highest priority approaches to cut O&M spending in your current environment should include:

  • Adopt the Technology Business Management (TBM) framework to make IT costs understandable and transparent within the agency, and to enable your team to manage those costs more aggressively.
  • Analyze your O&M costs as well as the total cost of ownership to compare to peers, evaluate current methods, and identify needed changes to your O&M practices and model (or to justify investment in modernized IT).
  • Purposefully throttle-down funding for the legacy applications and systems. Instead of paying to upgrade what you have, use that funding to invest in modular, agile application transformation initiatives.
  • Evaluate your resource and asset utilization, then eliminate redundant resources and infrastructure, and cut back on under-used resources, infrastructure and storage.
  • Automate testing (functional and non-functional) of applications, automated gate reviews for the build process using CI CD tools such as Jenkins. This will make your maintenance more efficient.
  • Consolidate authentication and authorization systems and processes to reduce duplication, reduce breakage, and reduce maintenance costs.
  • Keep network layers only to maintain secured access, otherwise consolidate and move to the cloud.
  • Employ people with the right skills to maintain your infrastructure and applications. The wrong people will be slower, and may break as many things as they fix.
  • Wherever possible, enable self-service problem resolution, to reduce the number of calls to help-desk support.

We’ve found that these steps can reduce O&M expenses by 25 to 40 percent in many cases. (Of course, the savings any agency may find achievable depend on O&M practices, prices currently paid, infrastructure utilization, and other factors.)

Just cutting current O&M spending isn’t enough to set your agency on the right path, however.  Our next article will focus on how to achieve long-term O&M savings by planning your next, modernized IT system with long-term O&M efficiency in mind. (Hint: Don’t just buy the new system that offers the most bells and whistles of new functionality. Instead, take the method and need for operations and maintenance into account as you choose your modernized system.)

Kishore Vuppala is a senior project manager and Denny Chiramel is a program manager with REI Systems.