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Commentary

2015 Government IT Spending: 3 Suggestions

New procurement practices help government CTOs meet mission objectives while making the most of limited agency dollars.

While federal IT budgets continue to be strained, too often this leads to a balancing act -- between supporting mission objectives and complying with strict mandates -- that CTOs must endure with every major IT expenditure.

Achieving optimal efficiency across federal IT departments, while protecting the taxpayer bottom line, will only happen if agencies implement solutions that are forward thinking while still cost efficient. Agency IT leaders must find ways to create innovative solutions that will meet the requirements for both today and tomorrow, that offer scale, and that won't become obsolete before they offer a positive return on investment. Below are three things every agency needs to consider and/or incorporate when planning and budgeting their IT.

1. Think "embrace and extend" vs. "rip and replace."
Since most agencies will have already made massive investments in technology systems, it simply doesn't make sense to rip all of those systems out and start over. Even with the authority to do so, it would be both an expensive proposition and likely an unnecessary one. Instead, agency IT managers need to look for places they can invest and get more out of what they have already implemented and consider where they can add and enhance existing software, hardware, and cloud operations for improved speed, security, and vitality.

2. Try before you buy.
No agency should ever invest in a solution until they can validate that it will work and be effective across their established IT environment. Often, if an agency primarily made investments with one particular vendor or brand for most of their operations, it was considered easier to just expand using that vendor's new, recommended solutions. Even if those new solutions were not considered ideal, many agencies would justify the investment because they were offered in the context of "it's pennies on the dollar." While that process was once expeditious, unfortunately, the government has found that approach to be very costly in the long term. The service dollars required to try and make those solutions work quickly added up, and whether the solutions would ever really deliver the productivity that was promised remained a looming question.

Today, agencies can't afford to agree to an expanded footprint until they can be sure that a solution will achieve their goals and deliver promised productivity. If a vendor is so sure that its product is the right solution for an agency, then it should provide a test run. Agencies should demand that all the vendors they are considering "prove it first."

IT purchases today should be treated like buying a new car: You wouldn't buy one without driving it, would you? Typically, judicious buyers will drive several vehicles to know which is the best fit for them. Major IT procurements practices should be handled the same way.

3. Start slow and build upon success.
Agencies should create a phase-up and phase-add approach to keep investments and expansions to a responsible pace (factoring in the speed of change). Massive investments should not be made upfront. Organizations should start slow, prove the solution out on a smaller project, and learn from that experience. Just like software development has moved away from the waterfall methodology to agile methodologies, so to should your procurement processes. Grow on small successes, monitoring changes in the marketplace and new compliance requirements. By starting with a small project first, agencies may find that their requirements will evolve a bit. Also, ideas on what else can be done that weren't originally thought about or considered become more apparent. Agencies may not realize some of the powerful improvements they can be doing until they get into the project. The results should make a significant impact on their operations, reduce costs, and improve response rates.

In order to cut out a lot of misalignment of requirements and technologies that lead to massive cost overruns, government agencies need to reconsider some of their old procurement habits. By making the most of what they have, pushing vendors upfront to prove their solutions will work, and starting out slow and building on successes, the IT expenditure balancing act can be minimized.

Considering how prevalent third-party attacks are, we need to ask hard questions about how partners and suppliers are safeguarding systems and data. In the Partners' Role In Perimeter Security report, we'll discuss concrete strategies such as setting standards that third-party providers must meet to keep getting your business, conducting in-depth risk assessments -- and ensuring that your network has controls in place to protect data in case these defenses fail. (Free registration required.)