VanRoekel says IT reform plan ‘shocked’ system into change

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

There are more than 1,000 federal program managers in the 2210 series.

Agencies have saved about $100 million in total from moving email to the cloud.

And chief information officers are receiving more power to manage parts of their agency’s IT budget than ever before.

All of these changes are because the Office of Management and Budget began an effort 18 months ago to reform the way the government spends nearly $80 billion a year on technology.

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The administration released its 25-point IT reform plan in December 2010 with a set of ambitious goals. While it’s easy to make the case that the transformation is far from complete, the impact on this 18-month anniversary nonetheless is real.

“We couldn’t be prouder of where we are,” said Steve VanRoekel, the federal CIO in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “We’ve kept the budgets flat or declining in the last year and have driven a wave of innovation and a culture shift across government to really embrace IT and the strategic importance of IT. The IT reform plan was a mechanism by which we used to shock the system, to get people to follow some very discrete deliverables.”

He said agencies have accomplished a lot over the last year-and-a-half, and built off the initial 25 goals.

Strategy brought consistency to IT implementations

Federal CIOs gave OMB the ideas around the 25-point plan, many of which were not new, and are considered long-time challenges.

VanRoekel said the reform strategy brought consistency to how agencies implemented certain technologies, such as cloud computing, virtualization and data center consolidation.

“We want to be smart about applying a strategy that can take and pull those best practices up to the broadest sense and scale across the government,” he said. “A lot of the strategies beyond the 25-point plan are focused on typically looking at one agency doing something really well and figuring out how to smartly scale that across government.”

Mike Hettinger, director of the Public Sector Innovation Group for the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), said the IT reform put critical buildings blocks in place to begin the shift to cloud.

“We are at the starting line. We’ve heard so much about cloud over the last 18 months, but when you look at what’s been done, we certainly have pockets where cloud has been implemented,” Hettinger said during an interview on the In-Depth with Francis Rose show yesterday. “We’ve had great success with the infrastructure-as-a-service blanket purchase agreement. We’ve certainly seen tremendous success in some of these email-as-a-service contracts that have been let where you’ve see agencies such as GSA or NOAA.”

SIIA released a white paper yesterday with recommendations for OMB in the post-25 point plan era.

Among those recommendations is for OMB to ensure all the different strategies don’t duplicate each other.

“Asking an agency to share first and also think about cloud first, while trying to find cost effective ways to consolidate your data center and infrastructure, there is an inherent conflict there,” Hettinger said. “We don’t think there is one solution. But we’ve asked OMB to take a look at these different policies and make sure there isn’t overlap. It’s an important issue.”

The other recommendations include:

  • Continue to promote the “Cloud First” policy developed in 2010
  • OMB and GSA should work together and with industry to remove barriers to effective planning and procurement.
  • Promote changes to the federal acquisition process and culture to ensure they keep pace with technology
  • Lower the barrier of market entry for small businesses
  • Develop a comprehensive Federal IT strategy roadmap

Reducing duplication is a key tenet of the 25-point plan and ensuing strategies, including the recently released PortfolioStat and Shared Services strategy.

VanRoekel said PortfolioStat is the key to reducing 10 percent of all IT spend in the fiscal 2014 budget request. OMB asked agencies to find areas to reduce spending and provide them with ideas of how they would move those savings to mission areas.

“We just had a report back on the number of agencies that have CIO authority memos in place to look at commodity computing and we are at over 24 that actually either have distinct plans in place or a process in place inside their agency that gives that visibility,” VanRoekel said. “I think we are beginning to inspire a lot of culture change inside the agencies that will lead to great outcomes.”

60 functions could move to shared services

OMB asked agencies by March 31 to begin developing a shared services strategy by identifying those functions to move to a provider. VanRoekel said agencies listed 60 functions worth about $34 million.

“I think this is the tip of the iceberg. I think PortfolioStat will really inspire a lot of stuff there,” he said. “This was a pre-cursor to PortfolioStat and we wanted to get agencies crawling before we did the walk and run that will come out of all this.” At the same time, agencies are on track to move about 78 functions to the cloud. VanRoekel said they are at about 80 percent of the IT reform plan goal.

The cloud-first strategy called for by the 25-point strategy helped agencies ease into the cloud and helped OMB realize there missing pieces to make the move easier. VanRoekel said that realization helped OMB lead the effort to develop the cloud cybersecurity approach, called FedRAMP, and procurement vehicles such as infrastructure-as-a-service and the soon-to-be awarded email-as-a-service blanket purchase agreements.

VanRoekel said the cloud-first policy, which focused mainly on moving email systems to public service providers, saved the government $100 million a year. He said in total agencies have moved more than 1 million mail boxes to the cloud.

“As we go through other programs like PortfolioStat and look at others, I think there is a lot of potential to drive a lot of savings here,” he said. “The strategies and tactics, led in large part by the 25-point plan and others, have all been to go find savings in the federal IT portfolio, eliminate duplication, shift to the cloud, consolidate data centers, and all that to the effect of taking those savings and pouring them back into innovating.”

He said much of the success of the 25-point plan around cloud and data center consolidation have been riding on the savings that agencies have been able to produce.

New modular acquisition guidance coming soon

Important to all of these efforts is how agencies buy the services.

When it issued the 25-point plan, OMB detailed several acquisition related goals, including creating a cadre of IT acquisition professionals, guidance around modular or agile development and the creation of a new job series for program managers, labeled the 2210 series.

VanRoekel said agencies have trained or hired more than 1,000 people in the 2210 series.

“What we’ve noticed and this comes up in the TechStats I run, is often times the projects we are running don’t have skilled program managers that can actually go and drive these projects forward while looking at the business requirements and the technical requirements to answer those business requirements,” he said. “This was an effort to start to build that muscle in government and have the ability to run these processes.”

VanRoekel said the guidance for modular or agile development is in final clearance and should be issued in the next week or so.

And as for the cadre of IT acquisition professionals, each agency is considering their needs.

“We are doing some of this in my shop by setting up specialized resources that we can go out and work with agencies on projects and other things,” he said. “The initial tranche there is working on accountability mechanisms to track progress against IT reform focused on savings.”

As for the next six months, VanRoekel said all of these efforts and strategies are giving agencies tools to do more innovation with less money.

“You can anticipate the budget will stay flat or decline and we need to go in and drive savings,” he said. “But we can’t lose sight of the important work technology does on behalf of Americans, making us a more productive government and making us a government that can serve Americans in a better way.”

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