Standardization, consolidation and shared services are three of the key recommendations offered by the Technology CEO Council to help the federal government not only contain IT costs but also improve performance. But the experiences of the Defense Department, as reported in a Federal News Radio story, help illustrate why it's so tough for agencies to follow through on these recommendations.
The DoD's infrastructure certainly would benefit from standardization and consolidation. As Federal News Radio notes, the DoD has 15,000 separate networks, 67,000 servers and 772 data centers. The agency has asked for a whopping $38.4 billion dollars for IT budget in fiscal 2012. More than 40 percent of that sum is for enterprise infrastructure, which would seem to fall into the "keeping the lights on" category that most CIOs want to avoid.
As regular readers of this blog know, I've been harping for some time now about how the fed's convoluted and arcane procurement processes and its bureaucratic culture are making it tough for agencies to cut IT costs. As Teri Takai, the DoD's new CIO, explains in the story, more than 60 percent of the DoD's IT budget is distributed to and spent by individual military services, which is bound to result in seemingly duplicative projects like the costly ERP upgrades currently being undertaken by the Marine Corps and the Army. Said Takai:
There is an importance around being able to understand how we can utilize the different colors of money to get to the enterprise approaches we want to take. That is a challenge. How are we going to be able to blend the various funding sources to do what we need to do?
Unbelievably, the DoD apparently lacks a formal IT enterprise strategy, given the story's reference to plans to publish one "soon." It does sound like the DoD may be making some headway in increasing efficiencies and reducing costs, given the list of short-term objectives it is currently focused on: data center consolidation, network optimization, enterprise identity management, enterprise email and enterprise hardware and software management. Getting these areas under better control would help build a solid foundation for future improvements.
The mandate to reduce spending may help spur needed action, said Takai. This is something I've heard from other CIOs, that budget cuts can inspire creative thinking.
When I spoke with Conrad Cross, former CIO of the City of Orlando who now heads up his own consulting company, Cross Consulting Consortium, about his decision to migrate Orlando's email from IBM's Lotus Notes to Google Apps, he told me his organization had just experienced a budget cut of 12 percent. He said:
... The opportunity side of that is, it forces us to look at better ways of doing things. If we had all the money in the world, we might not have gone to Google Apps. Necessity causes you to stop and be more ingenious in the way you think and the way you do things.
It sounds like Takai is hoping that the DoD's need to get its budget under control will at least inspire more collaboration as its stakeholders realize they need to work together to effect needed IT changes. She said:
It's actually sometimes easier to make hard decisions when budgets are shrinking, because you don't have the luxury of letting everybody do everything that they always want to do. If you talk about enterprisewide approaches and standardization and consolidation when there's lots of money, you will get no audience. Because everybody's got plenty of money to do exactly what they want to do.