Keeping tabs on costs at Interior

A decision by senior IT officials to review every tech purchase of more than $3,000 has paid handsome dividends at the Interior Department.

concept art for cloud services

In December 2010, Interior Department Principal Deputy CIO Lawrence Gross and CIO Bernie Mazer made an important decision: They would closely review every IT purchase that exceeded $3,000.

It was a massive undertaking, but Gross said it needed to be done.

"We wanted to get a better perspective on what was being purchased, and we wanted to have a low enough dollar threshold that we could see down to the level of even the shrink-wrapped software," Gross said.

In the first six months, the department realized significant savings, and leaders threw their support behind the initiative, he added.

"Because we were able to show tangible results in the pushback, organizational leadership recognized the value and said, 'We are going to adhere to this,'" Gross said.

Interior's partnership with VMware was one opportunity identified for savings, he added. Nearly every department component used VMware technology, but he and his team discovered they could get it at a better price by coordinating the purchases.

"Our motto was that we wanted to be able to deliver to you what you're receiving today at the same price or better," Gross said.

When the department first began following that model, he reviewed every purchase item that came into the CIO's office.

Communication and leadership buy-in were the secrets to Interior's effective execution of the plan and of other IT initiatives, such as moving financial management services to the cloud and switching to Gmail. Another key ingredient was changing the conversation from one focused on technology to one focused on business, Gross said.

"With the initial IT strategy, we went to the secretary and said, 'We think through this initiative we can save significant amounts of money.' It was quoted at about half a billion dollars at the time," he said. "It's about changing the conversation from strictly a technical conversation to a business-driven conversation that is outcome-based."

The same attitude came into play for Interior's cloud projects. The upfront costs of migrating to the cloud should not keep agencies from making the move, Gross said.

"Any change you do will have upfront costs," he added. "It's about defraying those upfront costs so that it's manageable."

The cost of expediting the migration of Interior's IT operations to the cloud, which was announced in 2013, is estimated to be as much as $10 billion in awarded contracts. The financial management and email systems have already been transferred, and Interior's bureaus are moving various applications intermittently.

Now the department is looking at its internal governance model with an eye toward acting as an oversight body and making sure those services adhere to certain standards and requirements, Gross said.

"With cloud, it will change a lot of the different dynamics of the organization," he said. "As those dynamics change so does who needs to be at the table."