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4/29/2011
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Feds Aim To Improve IT Management Skills

Officials have established a CIO best practices forum and program governance boards to comply with a 25-point IT reform plan.

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Bolstering IT governance and creating a CIO best practices online forum are just two of the ways the federal government is ramping up its IT management skills.

Improving how it manages IT projects and operations is part of a 25-point IT reform plan U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra unveiled in December. He cited program management in particular as a persistent problem in an update earlier this month about progress being made on the plan, calling many federal IT program managers underqualified for their positions.

Some new efforts are aimed at fixing this problem. A new Best Practices platform for agency CIOs serves as an aggregate source of information for how to improve IT operations. The site provides case studies, lessons learned, and other tools for CIOs.

The site satisfies point 10 of the 25-point plan, which was to create a collaboration portal for agency CIOs to share knowledge as they work on IT reform to reduce wasteful IT spending.

Some federal agencies have already seen cost savings and other improvements from enacting IT reform, and some of their case studies are available on the site.

One example often cited by Kundra as a reform success story is the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) migration of in-house email systems to the cloud, and a detailed account of how the department did it is available for download on the Best Practices site.

Establishing better IT governance is another goal of the reform plan to ensure that IT project goals are aligned with overall goals and missions of federal agencies.

In a recent blog post, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) CIO Richard Spires stressed how program governance boards are integral to maintaining the balance between agency needs and the requirements and success of IT projects.

"Complex IT systems encompass at least a half-dozen stakeholder organizations that must be synchronized, including the strategy organization, the business or mission owner of the system, IT, finance, procurement, security, and privacy," he wrote. "Ensuring all key stakeholders are involved in key decisions is an essential element to assuring genuine alignment."

In his nearly two years as DHS CIO, Spires has been instrumental in trying to align the department's IT programs and implementations with its overall mission. He's been blogging on the CIO.gov site about how agencies can deliver more successful IT programs.

Lest they be misunderstood, Spires made it clear that program governance boards are not meant to take any authority away from IT program managers. Instead, they will complement that authority by providing a forum for managers to bring any pertinent issues to light and obtain help from colleagues in resolving them, he said.

Spires recommended that any active IT program in progress at an agency or department have a program governance board that meets at least monthly or even more frequently, if necessary. Improved governance also improves collaboration between IT stakeholders and the transparency of federal IT programs, other goals of the Obama administration's IT reform efforts.

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