2015 Government IT Spending: 3 Suggestions - InformationWeek

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Chris Steel
Chris Steel
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2015 Government IT Spending: 3 Suggestions

New procurement practices help government CTOs meet mission objectives while making the most of limited agency dollars.

While federal IT budgets continue to be strained, too often this leads to a balancing act -- between supporting mission objectives and complying with strict mandates -- that CTOs must endure with every major IT expenditure.

Achieving optimal efficiency across federal IT departments, while protecting the taxpayer bottom line, will only happen if agencies implement solutions that are forward thinking while still cost efficient. Agency IT leaders must find ways to create innovative solutions that will meet the requirements for both today and tomorrow, that offer scale, and that won't become obsolete before they offer a positive return on investment. Below are three things every agency needs to consider and/or incorporate when planning and budgeting their IT.

1. Think "embrace and extend" vs. "rip and replace."
Since most agencies will have already made massive investments in technology systems, it simply doesn't make sense to rip all of those systems out and start over. Even with the authority to do so, it would be both an expensive proposition and likely an unnecessary one. Instead, agency IT managers need to look for places they can invest and get more out of what they have already implemented and consider where they can add and enhance existing software, hardware, and cloud operations for improved speed, security, and vitality.

2. Try before you buy.
No agency should ever invest in a solution until they can validate that it will work and be effective across their established IT environment. Often, if an agency primarily made investments with one particular vendor or brand for most of their operations, it was considered easier to just expand using that vendor's new, recommended solutions. Even if those new solutions were not considered ideal, many agencies would justify the investment because they were offered in the context of "it's pennies on the dollar." While that process was once expeditious, unfortunately, the government has found that approach to be very costly in the long term. The service dollars required to try and make those solutions work quickly added up, and whether the solutions would ever really deliver the productivity that was promised remained a looming question.

Today, agencies can't afford to agree to an expanded footprint until they can be sure that a solution will achieve their goals and deliver promised productivity. If a vendor is so sure that its product is the right solution for an agency, then it should provide a test run. Agencies should demand that all the vendors they are considering "prove it first."

IT purchases today should be treated like buying a new car: You wouldn't buy one without driving it, would you? Typically, judicious buyers will drive several vehicles to know which is the best fit for them. Major IT procurements practices should be handled the same way.

(Source: Gerald_G)
(Source: Gerald_G)

3. Start slow and build upon success.
Agencies should create a phase-up and phase-add approach to keep investments and expansions to a responsible pace (factoring in the speed of change). Massive investments should not be made upfront. Organizations should start slow, prove the solution out on a smaller project, and learn from that experience. Just like software development has moved away from the waterfall methodology to agile methodologies, so to should your procurement processes. Grow on small successes, monitoring changes in the marketplace and new compliance requirements. By starting with a small project first, agencies may find that their requirements will evolve a bit. Also, ideas on what else can be done that weren't originally thought about or considered become more apparent. Agencies may not realize some of the powerful improvements they can be doing until they get into the project. The results should make a significant impact on their operations, reduce costs, and improve response rates.

In order to cut out a lot of misalignment of requirements and technologies that lead to massive cost overruns, government agencies need to reconsider some of their old procurement habits. By making the most of what they have, pushing vendors upfront to prove their solutions will work, and starting out slow and building on successes, the IT expenditure balancing act can be minimized.

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Chris Steel is Chief Solutions Architect for Software AG Government Solutions, a leading software provider for the US federal government, helping it integrate and dramatically enhance the speed and scalability of its IT systems. Steel has more than 20 years of experience in ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2014 | 1:02:51 PM
Re: Try Before You Buy - At Scale?

That's a good question and there are several answers. Certainly a virtual IT lab that is dedicated to prototyping products for real world agncy applications would be ideal. However, the 'prove it first' approach can be applied even at the project scale, with little to no agency investment, simply by requiring vendors to do a proof of value (POV) demonstrating their product's ability to solve a particular issue in the context of the project. Ideally, they would use (scrubbed) agency data and host the POV on a similar platform that the project is using or has planned. Given the opportunity to see the product working in the POV provides a far greater degree of insight than the standard presnetation or document format, and opens up the ability to ask more relevant questions about the product.

Hope this helps.

User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2014 | 12:07:08 PM
Try Before You Buy - At Scale?
How does "try before you buy" work at the scale of government IT? I could imagine some kind of "virtual IT Lab" or a small set of licenses for testing. Is that what you had in mind?
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