OPM begins its march toward a modern IT infrastructure

Part 1: Katherine Archuleta and Donna Seymour discuss how OPM's IT strategy will improve internal oversight.

Jason Miller | April 17, 2015 6:23 pm

Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta delivered on her promise to develop a technology strategy plan within her first 100 days in office.

Now comes the hard part. OPM has laid out an aggressive six-pronged approach to improving its use and management of technology over the next five years.

“It really enables us to take a look at how we integrate existing IT services and look at our future capabilities,” Archuleta said in an interview with Federal News Radio Wednesday. “What I was excited about was the pillars that were being lifted up by the planning team. The fact that we are starting at the very fundamentals, that is, where is our leadership and where is our governance?”

Archuleta said one of her goals is to create a collaborative environment at OPM so that everyone understands they need to work together to ensure success.

“So when I saw IT leadership and IT governance were the fundamental base for how we move forward, I got very excited about that,” she said. “The third thing that I think was most important to me was that we were looking at this enterprisewide. We didn’t say, ‘We have to go in and fix this piece or that piece.’ We said, we have an opportunity here to lay a foundation for how we bring this all together and make sure, whatever the investment, we are doing that in a way that will profit the entire organization.”


History of IT missteps

Archuleta promised Senate lawmakers during her confirmation hearing in July that within 100 days after she was in office, OPM would have a new IT strategy.

The agency has faced a variety of IT missteps and challenges over the last decade — none worse than the multiple attempts to fix the retirement services system. OPM canceled three technology contracts over the last 15 years, including most recently ending a $300 million program in 2008.

Over the last five years, OPM tried a mixed approach, part low-technology and part incremental development, around specific components to improve the retirement services.

While the agency has succeeded in bringing down its retirement claims backlog (though latest figures show the inventory grew by 2,200 in February), a long term technology solution is needed.

“Where we are right now in the technology world, I think we have an opportunity to make investments wisely and to make use of some cost effective ways for those investments,” Archuleta said. “Instead of trying to rebuild an entire platform, what we are doing is taking a look at what we can buy off the shelf and what we can create that’s very agile in its use. Those types of investments probably were not possible even five years ago, so as we move forward, we have the advantage of the new developments in the IT infrastructure and architecture, and we are able to use those to support the important work our employees do.”

The plan details how OPM wants to transition to a paperless retirement system that gives employees accurate retirements benefits the day they are due, answers their questions quickly and accurately and promotes self-service.

“During FY 2014, we will develop requirements and co-locate data from the electronic Individual Retirement Record (eIRR) to the Retirement Data Repository (RDR), making it more broadly available to retirement services adjudication specialists and agency benefits officers through the Retirement Data Viewer (RDV),” the plan stated. “This work is dependent on additional funding, as it is only partially funded through an appropriation that supports development work for all stakeholders in the Enterprise HR Integration (EHRI) Data Warehouse.”

Additionally, OPM says it will move off legacy mainframes toward a more flexible, distributed environment. The agency estimated that change would help them avoid spending as much as 15 percent more each year for mainframe system upkeep.

Reorganizing the CIO shop

Improving the retirement system is just one of several initiatives outlined in the plan that falls under either acquire, sustain or separate lifecycle categories of a federal employee.

Other major projects include a new case management system, an electronic records management application (ERMA) and collaboration tools to support program offices by making data analytics better and possibly a governmentwide space for talent matching and resource sharing.

Along with new IT projects, OPM also is reorganizing how it delivers technology services to internal and external customers.

Donna Seymour, the OPM chief information officer, said she will realign her organization to support the strategic plan.

“We will focus on data, we will focus on business solutions, and we will focus on policy and strategy. We will focus on infrastructure services, like networking and communications type technologies,” Seymour said. “We will probably align in those four areas, which are pretty standard across most CIO organizations. We will make sure we have the depth of skills and the breadth of skills in those areas to address this plan.”

Seymour said she expects to hire expertise in cybersecurity and retrain current IT employees to apply their knowledge about OPM business needs in a different way.

It’s not just the CIO’s office that OPM is reshuffling. The plan provides a roadmap to give Seymour more authority and responsibility and details new governance and enterprise architecture structures to ensure interoperability and collaboration.

Archuleta said the goal is to break down existing silos between internal organizations, such as CIO, acquisition and finance.

She said the IT governance is the “commitment that the whole agency will have to the type of IT infrastructure that we are developing. So this governance means that not only will decisions be made that are good for the entire department, but they are also made by the entire department. Because the investments will be made much differently than they were before, it’s important that we have the input, insight and opinion of all of our office heads and assistant directors.”

Becoming a service provider

The enterprise architecture, or IT modernization blueprint, she said, will ensure technologies will stand the test of time and serve OPM well today and in the future. Seymour said the EA will help identify technology gaps and/or redundancies in IT capabilities.

“Our plan is about leading a culture change in leadership governance and enterprise architecture,” Seymour said. “From a leadership perspective, engaging not only our leaders across OPM, but our partnering agencies, is very important.”

She said OPM will make decisions based on both the agency’s needs as well as the needs of other departments.

Archuleta said one of her goals is to make OPM more of a service provider to the rest of the government.

She said the technology strategy helps to achieve that goal by putting OPM in the best shape to provide timely, accurate and efficient services.

“We understand our responsibility and who our stakeholders are,” Archuleta said. “When I took a look at what was present to me when I came into office, two things struck me. We had an incredible team of individuals who were dedicated to providing service to the American public. Without question, OPM employees understand what their role is and are committed to that role, and it’s reflected every day in the work that they do. But they also knew and were telling me that they needed more tools, better tools to perform their work, and the development of an IT strategic plan would help them implement what they needed to do. In response to our own employees as well as to our customers and stakeholders, we are providing an infrastructure that will enable us to provide a better service to the American public, and in particular, to our customers, our employees and to our annuitants.”


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