Many mandates have been heaped on federal IT executives over the past few years: cloud computing, data center consolidation, open government, shared services, and wider support for mobile devices and applications. Which of these requirements, all coming from the Office of Management and Budget, have risen to the top of agency to-do lists? Well, none of them.
InformationWeek Government's third annual Federal Government IT Priorities Survey shows that federal IT pros are focused, first and foremost, on providing a secure, solid foundation for all of those other IT efforts. Security, continuity planning, and data records management--in that order--top the list of federal IT priorities. Our survey, conducted in July, was completed by 147 federal IT pros.
That's not to say that those other IT initiatives aren't important; federal IT teams have their hands full with all of them. It's just that with a government-wide preoccupation with information security, and so many competing priorities, agency CIOs are putting most of their resources into establishing and maintaining a firm foundation. After all, it's hard to justify an investment in mobility projects or new collaboration tools if your firewalls have holes or your databases are offline.
IT strategy decisions aren't made in a vacuum, of course. 2012 is an election year, a period when many agency leaders shift into a more cautious wait-and-see mode. And for the fourth year in a row, federal IT budgets will be flat. When funds are tight, it's hard to spend on new initiatives. The single greatest barrier to effective IT execution, according to our survey, is lack of funding, mentioned by 35% of respondents.
Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel has been encouraging agency IT leaders to "do more with less," and he points to cloud computing and shared services as ways to do that. But progress tends to be slow and incremental. Only 11% of survey respondents rated the efficiency and effectiveness of their agency's IT performance as much improved over the past 12 months.
A question mark hangs over federal IT planning in the form of the Budget Control Act. If Congress fails to adopt a package of spending cuts or push out the act's deadline, automatic provisions will go into effect in January. The act would reduce federal spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, which would almost certainly have a significant impact on IT spending at the agency level.
Some people see adoption of consumer-like IT products and services as a way around these constraints, by putting new productivity and collaboration tools into the hands of federal employees at low cost. VanRoekel is a proponent of this approach, but federal IT pros are still figuring out the best way to do it. Only 5% of survey respondents consider "bring your own device" to be an extremely important IT initiative.
A major effort to reduce redundancy and increase efficiency in federal IT operations is the "shared first" strategy VanRoekel introduced in October and updated in May. It calls for agencies to share IT resources, facilities, and services. According to the OMB document outlining that strategy, a review of more than 7,000 federal IT investments found many redundancies and "billions of dollars" in potential savings. OMB wants agency CIOs to identify opportunities to consolidate redundant IT services "at all levels, in all federal sector lines of business, in all program areas, and with all IT acquisition vehicles."
In our survey, shared services garnered a 3.2 rating (out of 5) on the federal IT priority list, putting it on par with business intelligence, PC and laptop upgrades, and IT automation; right below cloud computing; and just above telework systems.