OMB has loftier goals in mind for technology business management

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The Trump administration wants agencies to gain a better line of sight into a chunk of the federal IT budget that’s simply categorized as “other” — and has no specific IT priority or value associated with it.

It’s that ambiguity that’s prompting the administration to adopt the Technology Business Management (TBM) framework governmentwide by fiscal 2022. It’s also why TBM implementation is one of 14 cross-agency priority goals the administration named in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA).  According to the PMA, 84 percent of the president’s 2018 federal IT request was classified as “other.”

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The cross-agency priority goal is a start, but the administration has more in store for the TBM initiative.

Agencies may eventually see a formal TBM mandate from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but for now, the administration is still in learning mode, Kelly Morrison, an OMB performance analyst, said Tuesday at the Association of Government Accountants’ CFO/CIO Summit in Washington.

The Trump administration is working with agencies who are early TBM adopters to learn about their own challenges and best practices, so that when OMB is ready to roll out a formal mandate, it’s equipped to give agencies a clear, unified implementation strategy.

“We believe that we’re going to be able to craft a strong federal-wide strategy for a roll-out, where we are essentially baking TBM into the way we do business as a government,” Morrison said.

Generally, the administration says the framework will help agencies better understand what it’s buying and how much it costs — both from a dollars and cents perspective and from a value perspective.

Specifically, OMB envisions using agencies’ TBM data as the backbone to the Federal IT Capital Planning Investment Control (CPIC) process. The current process can be inefficient and inaccurate, and agencies have been known to use data from non-authoritative sources and manually enter it into the CPIC dashboard, Morrison said.

“[We need to] have a governmentwide strategy for how we’re doing to roll out TBM and put in place the enabling mechanisms so that we are doing everything that we can to crack the nut at the enterprise-wide level, so that it’s not up to every single agency to figure how they’re going to go about implementing TBM,” Morrison said. “We will have data that is more accurate than what we have today from that manual-based process. We’ll have data that’s coming directly from authoritative sources in an automated way. It will absolutely reduce the level of burden that is spent today on the CPIC process.”

The Veterans Affairs Department is one of those relatively new and early TBM adopters that the administration is looking to for feedback.

The agency is using TBM to implement its new financial management system, said Rick Chandler, deputy assistant secretary and chief financial officer for VA’s Office Information and Technology.

“We’re still several years away from the IT organization using the new financial system,” Chandler said. “In the meantime, we’re working with the existing systems that we have. We will learn a lot as we implement a tool.”

VA started the TBM journey about 18 months ago, and it sees the process as a financial framework that will guide the project.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is also new to the TBM game, and it’s exploring how it can apply the process to the 50 new development projects it has in the works.

“That’s a lot to take on for one agency at one time,” said Tony Scardino, deputy undersecretary and acting deputy director for PTO. “I could tell you the budget for a lot of these system development projects, but the cost is the hard part. Where is the value? I want to get away from costs even; I want to get to the value, what you said you were going to deliver.”

PTO has an executive committee where the agency’s chief financial officer, chief information officer and other top leaders meet. Scardino said he’s been preparing a 30-second elevator pitch to his boss on TBM.

“We need to stop looking at IT as a cost-center and see it as a value generator for the organization,” he said.

All agency leaders need to buy into the TBM concept, Scardino added.

In fact, cultivating stakeholder buy-in is one best practice that OMB and Morrison have learned from participating TBM agencies.

Specifically, agencies should figure out who the key stakeholders are within the organization, who should be part of the data collection process, and where the data sits,  Morrison said.

In addition, agencies should think of TBM more as a financial management mindset, she said.

“TBM is not a tool; it is a discipline and a framework,” Morrison said. “Not jumping immediately to a tool is definitely a best practice that we found.”