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Flat IT budget forces new approaches

Dec. 16, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel, CIOs don't have the resources to continue investing heavily in legacy systems and simultaneously fund new, innovative technology initiatives.
Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel, CIOs don't have the resources to continue investing heavily in legacy systems and simultaneously fund new, innovative technology initiatives. (Thomas Brown / Staff)

Budget pressures are forcing agency chief information officers to consider alternative ways of paying for information technology, according to the Obama administration's point man on the issue.

CIOs don't have the resources to continue investing heavily in legacy systems and simultaneously fund new, innovative technology initiatives, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said in an interview this week.

"[They] have to do more with less," said VanRoekel. But "how do you innovate on a flat or declining budget?"

Using the private sector as an example, VanRoekel said one way to generate additional funds is the "cut and invest strategy," or decrease funding for the maintenance of legacy systems and invest that money in new projects. Some agencies, such as the Transportation Department, are using this approach.

Transportation has an online catalogue of its IT applications and services, and users can rate the performance of the technology, VanRoekel said. Based on user feedback and other analytics, such as usage rates, the CIO decides whether to cut funding for low-performing IT applications and systems.

"We don't typically do that in government," VanRoekel said. "[But] it is definitely something we have to do; drive out the old in favor of promoting the new."

He is looking at how Transportation's efforts can be expanded governmentwide. If agencies can find savings in a single fiscal year, they will be able to reinvest the money, he said.

For next year, VanRoekel said his primary focus will be agencies' execution of his Shared First policy, which requires agencies to share IT systems, procurements and expertise. Before making a new investment, agencies must first considering using existing services, both inside their agencies and across government, VanRoekel added at an industry and government forum on Friday.

By March 1, agencies have to develop a Shared First plan that outlines at least two areas, such as email or help desk support, that can be consolidated into a shared environment, according to a draft policy released last week. Agencies have until December 2012 to consolidate those services.

When asked about the private sector's role in executing Shared First, VanRoekel said in large part industry will provide the goods and services that agencies will be sharing, but in a more coordinated way.

For example, the Commerce Department is consolidating numerous contracts for purchasing computers down to a single contract in order to drive down costs through bulk purchases. And the Agriculture Department consolidated 21 email systems and reduced costs by moving to the cloud. Expected savings: $6 million per year.

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