Software, shared services spice up summer

Don’t ever tell me summer is a “down time” in the federal IT and acquisition communities. The Office of Management and Budget has been pushing out memos like summer blockbuster movies — hopefully with better results.

Contract awards and bid protests continue to be hot and heavy, especially in the Defense Department.

But there may have been a few important news items that slipped through the proverbial cracks of your news cycle.

First off, federal chief information officers are getting a new role — software sheriff. CIOs must develop an inventory of software licenses, track spending and find opportunities for consolidations and savings under the MEGABYTE Act.

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President Barack Obama signed the Making Electronic Government Accountable By Yielding Tangible Efficiencies Act of 2016 into law July 29.

Under the law’s provisions, CIOs will have to send OMB an annual report on how much money they are saving from better software management.

In June, OMB actually got ahead of the law by issuing a policy requiring better management of software licenses under the category management initiative.

The bill from Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and the 28 co-sponsors in the House, and Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), came from a Government Accountability Office report in May 2014 that highlighted how agencies lacked a centralized approach to managing software licenses, in part because OMB didn’t make it a priority. GAO and lawmakers estimate agencies are “wasting” $4 billion a year on disparate software purchases.

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OMB also in 2014 got category management going in full gear and started to focus on the “low-hanging fruit” where software licenses were an obvious choice along with laptops and desktops and mobile devices.

So the MEGABYTE Act actually came along at the perfect time when the administration’s focus was on this exact topic creating a natural phenomenon.

Timing may not be as good for two other recent releases from the General Services Administration.

GSA issued a request for information to modernize the government’s approach to electronic payroll.

And related to that shared services effort, GSA also released a new playbook to help agencies trudge through the often challenging and arduous task of moving financial management or human resources systems to shared service providers.

The RFI, which GSA jointly issued with the Office of Personnel Management, is asking vendors for details across eight different areas, including everything from gross net payroll calculation to cloud technologies for payroll to comprehensive workflow management capability.

The deadline to respond to the RFI is Aug. 29.

“This RFI is not intended to address all aspects of payroll management, many of which are well understood and documented within the federal community. Instead, the RFI is limited to eight components, each of which addresses specific challenges and requirements of interest to the federal government and essential to the governmentwide management of payroll,” GSA and OPM stated in the RFI. “This RFI is a critical step in developing a common strategy for federal payroll service delivery, which must balance the costs and benefits of consolidation, competition, agility, flexibility, variation, etc. The issuance of this RFI is not meant to imply there would or would not be a single product, platform, architecture or provider recommended for federal payroll. As with many common or governmentwide solutions, the final approach may involve one or multiple technologies, delivery modalities and providers.”

OMB initially consolidated 26 disparate payroll systems into four shared services providers — the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, National Finance Center in the Agriculture Department; the Interior Business Center; the Department of State, and GSA’s Payroll Services Branch — during the mid-2000s.

It’s widely considered the most successful e-government project from the Bush administration.

“The payroll services provided by the five SSPs serve approximately 2.3 million employees globally, and are based on a range of IT systems, including internally developed and maintained software and Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) products,” the RFI stated. “The five SSPs accurately process payroll for 99 percent of the civilian workforce of the federal government. The five SSPs operate independent systems in disparate environments and in centers located across the continental United States.”

It’s interesting GSA and OPM are starting to look at payroll as the struggle to move to financial management shared services continues.

A recent GAO report on the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found the agency transferred four of 14 capabilities to the Treasury Department’s Administrative Resource Center, but none fully met the department’s requirements or expectations.

“[T]he department continues to execute programmatic transactions using costly and inefficient legacy systems that were expected to be replaced with New Core,” auditors reported. “HUD has begun other initiatives to deliver financial management systems capabilities and replace legacy systems that were not addressed under New Core. Detailed plans for these efforts are in development.”

This is the second audit showing HUD’s migration to ARC is struggling. In September, HUD’s inspector general cautioned that the agency may be moving too fast.

OMB and GSA recognized the ongoing struggles with moving to shared services a long time ago and just recently released a shared services playbook for modernizing IT systems.

GSA’s Unified Shared Services Management office’s Modernization and Migration Management (M3) Framework details a five-step process from assessment to operations.

GSA says it developed the framework and playbook based on best practices from more than 100 shared services experts from across the government and industry, and sessions with more than 77 experts from 40 agencies.

“Using the M3 Playbook as a map, USSM, OMB and other subject matter experts will work with agencies to assess and mitigate potential hurdles to success,” GSA stated in the introduction. “The process ensures a more outcome and risk-based dialogue and provides greater transparency into costs and funding requirements for modernizations and migrations, delivering a federal government that is smarter, savvier and more effective in delivering for the American people.”

The framework and playbook actually comes at a good time considering the push from OMB for agencies to move financial and HR systems to shared services over the next five years. Hopefully, it will help agencies and providers be better prepared for the migrations so the struggles by early adopters such as HUD, are reduced.