Department Of Interior Tackles Two High-Risk IT Projects

As the White House begins heavy scrutiny of its IT projects, the agency is getting a head start on the multi-year $7.6 billion Consolidated Infrastructure, Automation, Telecomm project and the much smaller Incident Management, Analysis, and Reporting System.
It may have been only last week that the Office of Management and Budget announced the 26 high-risk federal IT projects it will scrutinize in great detail at the risk of agencies receiving significant cuts, but already the Department of Interior, which has two projects on the list, is working to best position its high-risk projects for success.

In fact, the Department of Interior has been working to right its projects since before the review even started, when it worked hand-in-hand with OMB to look for projects "where the extra attention would benefit the organization," Interior Department CIO Bernard Mazer said in an interview last week.

Working with OMB, the Department of Interior first identified about 10 that had cost, schedule or scope challenges, frequent changes of baselines or frequent changes in project managers and leadership sponsors. That list was eventually whittled down to the two that made it onto the list: the multi-year, $7.6 billion Consolidated Infrastructure, Automation, Telecomm project -- the single largest IT project on OMB's list -- and the much smaller and earlier stage Incident Management, Analysis, and Reporting System.

The infrastructure project will cost $7.6 billion over its life cycle, or about $500 million annually, for a list of common utilities and infrastructure services, including networks, messaging, help desk, software support, enterprise licensing, IT security and more.

However, Mazer said, the process has been so slow, and the fact that infrastructure activities are distributed across any number of Department of Interior bureaus and offices -- including, for example, a dozen email systems -- hasn't helped matters. "We're taking too long to realize benefits for everyone," he said, adding that the department was also interested in cutting costs while at the same time improving Interior employees' experience with IT.

In response, the department is looking at how it can overhaul its IT governance processes. "We're looking at shortening the time it takes to realize benefits," Mazer said. "One of the things we are doing is that we are reforming the governance process within the Department of Interior. To that point, for example, where we might have had a multiplicity of governance boards in the past, and we're streamlining that." Interior is also creating a process similar to OMB's TechStat project review sessions called iStat to improve oversight over important projects.

One of the infrastructure efforts Interior is looking at closely is email. Despite some earlier stumbling blocks, the Department of Interior plans to move forward with cloud-based email. Today, Interior has 12 separate email systems, and separate instances even within the agency's bureaus. In addition, managing one directory presents challenges in a multiple email system environment, Mazer said.

That acquisition will come "soon," although the department is still working through analyses of what type of cloud environment the email will be hosted in, what specific service levels will be required, and how and whether to include additional platforms for other collaborative services in the acquisition.

In addition, the department is looking at the possibility of enterprise service desk support, unified messaging, consolidating data centers and some centralized security functions -- all projects that would be part of Interior's larger infrastructure project, and projects that will likely be a point of discussion when Interior meets with OMB.

By late next month, Interior will submit to OMB details on how it is identifying risks, outlining project scope and setting achievable deliverables within a shortened time frame. That will be followed up by a series of TechStat sessions, meetings in which various project stakeholders from IT and outside of IT will meet with OMB to discuss fixing the problems.