For the first time federal agencies are expected to spend less on information technology in the current year than they did the year before. But that doesn’t mean agencies are necessarily scaling back their capabilities. Despite technology’s receding top line, agency chief information offices aren’t thinking smaller when it comes it IT — they’re thinking smarter.
For Casey Coleman, CIO of the General Services Administration, IT consolidation — including a push to eliminate unneeded data centers and streamline lines of authority in GSA’s tech shop — have netted big savings and allowed the agency to move in a more strategic direction.
Meanwhile, Joe Klimavicz, the CIO of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says wider adoption of shared services can help agencies cut back on operations-and-maintenance IT spending to free up more cash for mission- specific tech initiatives.
Both CIOs shared their best practices and perspective as part of the Federal News Radio special report, A New Era in Technology.
Coleman has been focusing her efforts, in part, on a sweeping data-consolidation initiative that aims to close 74 percent of GSA’s data centers by the end of fiscal 2015 and net savings of $24 million.
Last year, GSA met its goal of closing 37 data centers — out of 119 — and is well on its way to meeting its overall goal, Coleman told In Depth with Francis Rose.
“It’s a fairly complex process, even for closing some of these smaller data centers,” Coleman said.
First, GSA had to create a data-center inventory, which included information such as the number of servers, the total storage capacity and operating systems run out of each data center.
“And then we had to understand what was running in those data centers,” she added. “What applications and tools, and what were people using them for? Once that step was completed, we could begin to plan the migration. And it’s not just a matter of picking up servers and moving them. We’ve got to make sure that the network has got enough bandwidth in the new site to handle the additional traffic.”
That meant virtualizing some applications and even phasing out those that were no longer needed.
“So, we’re doing a lot to tighten up our operations at the same time that we’re consolidating,” Coleman said.
The data-center consolidation effort also comes amid a push to reorganize and streamline GSA’s org chart when it comes to technology.
Previously, different GSA units, such as the Federal Acquisition Service and the Public Buildings Service ran their own IT departments with only a “dotted line reporting requirement” to Coleman’s office, she said.
In February 2013, GSA brought all the disparate IT teams into a more cohesive organization, she said.
“Each of the offices had historically made its own IT choices,” Coleman said. “Now coming together, we can really get the best leverage in terms of our buying power, in terms of focusing our efforts around a more core set of technologies so we can save money and improve our own subject-matter expertise around those technologies.”
Klimavicz, who heads up the CIO Council’s shared-services task force, said agencies can reap large rewards by phasing out expensive proprietary back-office functions.
“The use of shared services is more important than ever given current fiscal constraints, expanded performance requirements and rising customer expectations,” Klimavicz said in an interview with the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp. “Federal agencies must find ways to do more things with less and the shared-services model gives us the opportunity to reduce costs, increase quality and quickly deliver new capabilities.”
Klimavicz’s task force helped stand up “Uncle Sam’s List,” an online database of existing IT shared services, such as the Treasury Department’s human-resources line of business and the Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center for payroll services.
“Given where we are with the fiscal environment, agencies really need to look at how they can best take advantage of the services that are out there,” he said.
Last year, the task force interviewed nearly all of the government’s shared- service providers and came up with five main areas that agencies should address before making the leap to shared services.
Governance — What is the process agencies will use to choose and migrate to and from a provider?
Contracting — Agreement between agencies will need to adhere to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)
Funding — Funding transfers between agencies can be both tricky and time-consuming
Customer readiness — Do you have customers that are ready to go the shared-services route?
Provider capability — Does the shared-service provider have the capability you’re looking for and the capacity to expand?
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 8-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.