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How Uncle Sam Is Already Saving Money With IT

The sweeping $787 billion economic stimulus bill signed yesterday by President Obama contains billions of dollars in tech-related spending. With this bill, and plans by the Obama administration to soon name "the first" federal CTO, one has to wonder how the federal government has been doing in its own use of IT till now.

The sweeping $787 billion economic stimulus bill signed yesterday by President Obama contains billions of dollars in tech-related spending. With this bill, and plans by the Obama administration to soon name "the first" federal CTO, one has to wonder how the federal government has been doing in its own use of IT till now.In fact, the big, bad wolf of federal agencies -- the IRS -- is one agency that's has been doing a pretty impressive job the last eight years or so saving taxpayers a chunk of money through the use of collaboration and e-learning tools.

Since 2001, the IRS has eliminated nearly $137 million in travel and training expenses by having tens of thousands of IRS workers attend training sessions and meetings virtually through the help of Saba Centra collaboration tools, says Patsy Ramos, IRS manager of Web services support.

For 2009 alone, Ramos estimates that virtual training sessions and VoIP-enabled meetings for IRS personnel will save taxpayers about $6.4 million. That includes expenses associated with 18,827 IRS employees who would otherwise have spent about two days of traveling for training sessions, at a cost of about $800 per day, she says.

Instead, IRS workers are able to sit at their desktops and meet professional development training requirements virtually, as well as use collaboration tools to tap into some very specific expertise of colleagues, she says. For instance, the Saba platform is being used to "record" training events for reuse, including presentations from subject experts about IRS best practices. For example, an IRS manager with expertise in tax laws pertaining to the petroleum industry can record presentations featuring important tips other agents need to know, and save it in the Saba environment for others to access later.

"There's a search function to find an event and a link to access it," says Ramos. "This allows people to learn from each other, share best practices -- and there's no travel expenses involved."

Meanwhile, during busy tax preparation seasons in the past, it wasn't uncommon for field offices to close so that IRS workers could attend special training, says Ramos. Nowadays, "no one has to travel," and training can be done on-site in shifts, leaving more IRS workers available to help the public, she says.

For an investment of about $3.2 million since 2001, including Saba software licensing, maintenance, and hardware, Ramos estimates the IRS has saved $136.6 million, resulting in a whopping 4,217% ROI.

Surely, taxpayers would be impressed -- and probably shocked -- to see those kinds of returns on the multibillion-dollar tech related investments Uncle Sam is making now.

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