GSA sees clear benefits of consolidation

CIOs say consolidation is a priority, and a survey shows agencies heading down the path for better security and cost savings.

The General Services Administration saved more than $1 million when it installed an agencywide instant-messaging system. Casey Coleman, GSA’s chief information officer, said those saving are an example of the benefits of consolidation. “We installed it once across the department, and that means we had to use fewer servers and fewer people to do the work, and we needed fewer software licenses,” Coleman said last week at conference in Washington sponsored by the Information Technology Association of America and the Potomac Forum. “Before, we had too many different policies, and that affected the version and patching.” GSA late last year standardized with Lotus Notes’ latest version that includes IM capabilities including an online presence feature. Coleman said GSA has started analyzing its data center requirements with an eye toward consolidation. “We have 10 to 20 data centers now. Some are government-owned, and some are outsourced,” she said. “Some are likely candidates for consolidation.” Coleman said GSA would finalize its data center consolidation plan by Oct. 1. “We are pushing the green issue, which is something everyone can get behind,” she said. According to ITAA’s 18th annual CIO survey released at the conference, federal IT managers said consolidation was their second-biggest challenge. Paul Wohlleben, chairman of the ITAA task force that conducted the survey and a partner at Grant Thornton, said CIOs believe cost, security and interoperability are the biggest drivers of consolidation. “The increased use of the IT Infrastructure Library standard was surprising,” he said. “We took it to show that CIOs want to use a more structured method for consolidation.” The survey of 46 senior IT managers at 30 agencies found that adopting common practices across the enterprise is key for better overall IT and agencywide management. Ed Meagher, the Interior Department’s deputy CIO, said at the conference that the move to consolidate systems is part of the industry’s recovery from the client/server era. “Client/sever configuration was incredibly inefficient,” he said. “As we’ve grown, consolidation is considered an evil word. But optimization is a battle we can win.” Meagher added that for agencies to be successful in consolidating systems, they need to keep the return on investment — whether money or efficiencies — in the forefront of the discussion. Coleman said another key would be to ensure that consolidation is tied to the agency’s mission. One common consolidation challenge is ensuring users understand the agencywide perspective. Meagher said one bureau CIO told him, “I can’t afford any more of your savings.” “To some, it looks like you are spending more on the same services,” Meagher said. “But that usually means the user doesn’t have a good baseline of their original costs.”