Government CIOs Must Focus On Results, Not Data Centers

Data center proliferation entails unacceptable cost and risk, says the former CIO of the U.S. Postal Service. With cloud computing as an option, it's time to pursue a more sustainable strategy.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

November 30, 2009

3 Min Read

Let me also be clear that we need to go beyond application outsourcing. We need to take advantage of emerging cloud computing services to provide government with the additional flexibility and extensibility that it needs. Consider the challenges that agencies regularly face, such as the IRS's need to ramp-up for tax season or the Postal Services' requirements for additional resources to handle the Christmas rush. In this new environment, what I'm calling the enterprise computing-on-demand era, these requirements won't be met with bulldozers and cranes, but with the click of a mouse.

Some may point to the occasional outage of consumer or other services to argue that government IT is too critical to outsource. I argue the opposite. These "lite" services often lack meaningful service level agreements and related investments in redundancy and failover, and they’re often free. Yet, Gmail still seems to outperform many agencies' Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange implementations in terms of reliability. Imagine what would happen if we made a real commitment to this paradigm and backed it with enforceable SLAs?

In terms of making this vision a reality, what’s needed is leadership from the Office of Management and Budget. Currently, investments in major applications and IT systems are vetted for their appropriateness (e.g., do they fulfill or advance a specific mission?) and viability (e.g., are the program management elements in place to ensure success?). We need to provide similar scrutiny in terms of how departments and agencies build, expand, procure, and manage data center resources. This is an issue that is too often buried within other requisitions.

As an initial goal, I propose that each department and agency be required to show in 2010 how they would leverage a shared services or enterprise computing-on-demand model to meet 50% of their data center requirements within five years. While some exceptions for specialized requirements may be justified, it's fair to say that half of the core operations and processes of most agencies are fairly generic. Coupled with advances in productivity and efficiency, I believe it's feasible to reduce the 1,200 government-owned data centers to 250 over the next 10 years.

How would we ensure success? We need to establish clear metrics and expectations for progress and combine them with transparency so that these efforts can be continually assessed. Furthermore, we need to ensure that performance is tied directly to the CIO's annual assessment and that they're rewarded for success. Net/net: CIOs should be focused on strategic business initiatives impacting their organizations, not on the day-to-day performance of server farms.

What will make this approach successful is a focus on outcomes and results and not merely on processes. Rather than trying to prescribe the specific approach that departments and agencies should take, we need to simply ensure that there are real consequences for not achieving these objectives.

Given the opportunity, I’m confident that government IT pros will capitalize on this to really transform how IT meets their organization’s computing requirements. In doing so, we will all benefit from greater alignment with the agency's mission, the standardization of key requirements, and cost savings realized through greater operational efficiency and reduced capital spending.

Robert L. Otto, executive VP of advisory services with Agilex Technologies, was CIO and CTO of the U.S. Postal Service from 2001 through 2007.

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