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Feds, industry work to improve reporting on IT spending

May 20, 2015 (Photo Credit: Rob Curtis/Staff)

The Commission on IT Cost, Opportunity, Strategy and Transparency (IT COST) — created and fostered by the Technology Business Management (TBM) Council — is bringing together federal and private sector CIOs to develop a set of recommendations focused on increasing transparency and providing visibility into even the lowest-level IT buys.

New legislation like the DATA Act and Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act ( FITARA ) look to accomplish similar goals and the IT COST Commission hopes to be able to add to the conversation with insights from the private sector.

More: Major IT reform to have 'immediate effect' on feds

"Between the private sector and the public sector — and in this case the federal part of the public sector — we can leverage the knowledge and experience, the work that's been done already to get to a common way for us to think about IT," said Sylvia Burns, Interior Department CIO and member of the new commission. "Particularly, what we spend on IT and being able to relate that back to achieving broader purposes for our organization."

Current methods for tracking IT spending are often convoluted — without standards on what constitutes IT or a base taxonomy for how spending should be reported. This leads to confusion among the ranks and makes it difficult for top-level managers who have to make decisions using incomplete or untrustworthy data.

"I know how we assemble the IT portfolio for the government — it's a very imperfect process where a lot of the numbers are self-reported," Burns said. "In terms of having fidelity around the true value of the portfolio and where the organization wants to make trade-offs or make certain decisions, it's very hard to use the portfolio for business decisions because the accuracy of the data is suspect."

More: Clock starts on DATA Act implementation

One of the main goals of the group will be to develop a standard taxonomy for talking about and reporting IT spending with the hope of empowering federal employees to make better decisions.

"Once you have good data and the groupings are right it allows decision makers to identify opportunities where you're not leveraging economies of scale where you could be," Burns said.

This is particularly challenging at the lowest levels, where bureaus might be making smaller IT purchases that aren't always reported properly, or at least in a way that can be managed at the department level.

Burns cited a specific example at Interior where component bureaus were buying a particular software license as needed, unaware that the department offered a contract vehicle that provided the same software at a better price.

More: FITARA guidance outlines CIO authorities, delegating responsibility

"This taxonomy isn't just for the high level," she said. "It's how do you have a constructive dialog where you're actually talking the same language at any level in the organization. The taxonomy helps you to have more consistency around talking about what the IT spend is."

The COST Commission has its first meeting set for June, with plans to have a final report ready by early 2016.

"There's been a lot of work done already with significant private sector organizations that have the same interests that we do in the federal government," Burns said. "There's been a lot of investment in time and energy around the model we're looking at. There's no logic in reinventing the wheel … If we can leverage it and get benefit out of it in the federal government, then maybe we can get there faster."

"We realize that commercial and federal CIOs approach technology cost accounting and management very different," said Doug Lane, CEO of Capgemini Government Solutions and commission member. "However, there are key private sector learnings that can be applied to the federal space that we believe will have a substantive, lasting impact on the way public sector CIOs manage and communicate the value of their technology investments."

Commission Members:

Federal: Sylvia Burns, Interior Department CIO; Frank Baitman, Health and Human Services CIO; Richard McKinney, Department of Transportation CIO; Steve Cooper, Commerce CIO; and Joyce Hunter, USDA acting CIO.

Industry: Sunny Gupta, Appito CEO; Doug Lane, Capgemini Government Solutions CEO; Todd Lavieri, President, Americas, Information Services Group; and Ralph Kahn Tanium vice president of federal.

TBM Council: Larry Godec, CIO, First American; Rebecca Jacoby, CIO, Cisco; Tom Murphy, CIO, University of Pennsylvania; Ralph Loura, CIO, Enterprise Group, Hewlett Packard ; Phuong Tram, CIO, DuPont; Mike Benson, CIO, DIRECTV; Don Duet, Co-Head of Technology, Goldman Sachs; and George Westerman, Research Scientist, MIT.

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