Federal IT leaders are balancing IT spend and project prioritization while trying to drive digital transformation to modernize government operations and meet the needs of the American people. It’s a monumental task, made even more challenging in disparate and siloed working environments. Taking a holistic approach to digital transformation in government requires a shift in mindsets.
The Technology Business Management (TBM) framework supports that cultural shift by enabling leaders to categorize IT costs, technologies, resources, applications, and services across the enterprise to better understand how technology investments bring value to agencies and where to make investments to improve mission outcomes.
MeriTalk recently talked with Kelly Morrison, director of public sector at Grant Thornton, a technology consulting firm, to discuss how TBM can help agencies transform how they manage and implement IT to support agency missions.
MeriTalk: How do most Federal agencies organize IT spending and investment planning today?
Morrison: It’s done very inconsistently across agencies. An IT investment can represent so many different things. In some cases, it may represent a single application and in other cases, it represents an entire business line with multimillion-dollar funding that supports a specific mission area(s).
Also, agencies tend to have a grasp on the IT spending where there are IT direct appropriations. However, more often there is larger IT spend embedded within programmatic appropriations, which may not be known. This makes it difficult to organize and strategically manage the agency’s IT portfolio.
MeriTalk: What is working well with IT spending and investment planning? Are there any bright spots?
Morrison: Honestly, there’s not a lot that’s working well. For most agencies, CIOs and agency leadership don’t have a holistic IT portfolio picture to support effective management. That’s not to say that there has been no progress or that nothing is working with IT spending and investment planning.
Largely agencies rely on manual-based processes that have been in place since the Clinger-Cohen Act in 1996, and are dealing with siloed systems, data, and management structures. Data is collected from one part of the organization, which rolls up into a system. That data may not be coming from an authoritative source or encompass all IT across the organization. It also may not connect data elements from various systems – and often the data in various systems don’t align. Technology leaders don’t have an accurate enterprise IT baseline. If you don’t know what you have, you can’t manage it effectively, strategically, or ensure a strong security posture.
Right now, agency CIOs are managing in the dark. They have bits and pieces of data and information to make decisions, though likely don’t have a comprehensive view informing decision-making. As a result, when they’re trying to do the right thing for their agency, like optimizing, consolidating, reducing redundancies, and increasing performance, they are met with a lot of resistance from internal and external stakeholders – including OMB and Congressional stakeholders – as there is a lack of confidence and trust.
The bright spot is that technology has advanced, and disparate data sources can be connected to provide a full picture and improve data integrity, portfolio management, and stakeholder confidence. We need to do better, and technology advancements can support the path forward.
MeriTalk: How does the current environment of flat or declining IT budgets impact how agencies keep pace with digital change?
Morrison: In most cases it hamstrings agencies. Not that long ago, IT was just a back-office support function. Now, because IT is embedded in everything, it’s truly the only mechanism that’s helping organizations transform how they deliver on their mission. The government needs to be investing more in IT. However, the mindset still exists that it is just a back-office function.
This is where the Technology Business Management (TBM) framework comes in. It’s a value management framework that can help change that mindset. Adopting the framework can help technology leaders communicate with internal and external stakeholders how technology investments across the agency are working and how they are integral to the mission. With TBM, you’re opening the conversation and empowering stakeholders to be part of the decision-making for IT budget and investments, and you’re supported by solid data from across the enterprise.
MeriTalk: How does TBM help support agency missions?
Morrison: TBM is the best tool that I’ve seen, and I’m talking about a framework, not a software tool, that helps organizational leaders – not just IT leaders – connect full IT spend and value to business and mission outcomes. That’s extremely important because it flips the current mindset. Right now, IT organizations are constantly defending numbers, asking for increases, and are up on the Hill for hearings in front of Congress to talk about how additional funding is needed. I’ve spoken with many private sector organizations that shared TBM was a game-changer for them. Now, because of TBM, the business leaders are advocating for increased IT spend because for the first time they recognize how investments in technology enable mission objectives. The technology leaders are no longer the ones needing to prove they need more budget.
Today, IT is what is enabling and transforming the way organizations deliver on their missions. TBM directly supports transparency into the spend, an understanding of total cost of ownership – or what something truly costs – and how investments in IT are enabling the missions.
MeriTalk: The TBM framework uses a maturity model. How are agencies placed on the maturity scale? Once agencies are placed on the scale, what happens next?
Morrison: The Federal Technology Investment Management Community of Practice and the ACT-IAC IT Management and Modernization Community of Interest collaborated to develop the TBM maturity assessment model to address an action item in the Federal Data Strategy 2020 Action Plan. It includes six dimensions, and agencies can self-assess their current state and where they want to be in a given period of time.
Agencies aren’t mandated to use the model. One of the features I like is the ability to identify where you are today and where you want to be, which can inform a roadmap to achieve the desired maturity level to support agency management and various IT priorities which improves the value of IT.
MeriTalk: How does TBM drive speed to value for IT investments?
Morrison: The TBM framework really helps to connect IT spend with value that is aligned to the mission in one framework versus having bits and pieces in different databases with different teams. While some agencies have tried to do this on their own, the TBM framework offers the mechanism and discipline to pull it all together in a proven construct that then allows agencies to communicate the value of IT. That communication is the big part of driving future IT investments. With all the data in one place, it’s easier – and quicker – to make IT investment decisions.
MeriTalk: How does mapping IT spend to TBM increase business value?
Morrison: I promise I’ll answer your question, though first want to point out that TBM’s true value isn’t in mapping data, it’s in understanding what you have, how much it costs, what’s it’s enabling, how it’s performing, etc. Mapping to the TBM taxonomy helps organizations and various stakeholders see the IT portfolio in multiple views. For example, the TBM Taxonomy Cost Pool layer will be important to the finance and budget stakeholders. The Solution layer of the taxonomy will be important to technology leaders managing solutions and to the business partners leveraging services to meet their mission and business needs. TBM presents the right information in the right way to the right people, with all of the information connected within one framework. It’s like a Rosetta Stone – each area of the agency can see the business value of IT in a way that they can understand.
MeriTalk: Can you share an example of what can happen when an agency adopts the TBM framework?
Morrison: Many times, when an agency starts to implement the framework, they uncover systems that they thought were retired, but weren’t fully decommissioned. The old technology is still running on the network and consuming costs – and could be posing a significant security risk. TBM breaks through organizational, data, and operating environment silos, providing great visibility to uncover things like this that can turn into significant cost savings, efficiency, and security improvements. It can transform the way that an agency operates and manages IT and enable data-driven and evidence-based decision-making.
MeriTalk: How does Grant Thornton support Federal agencies in adopting the TBM framework?
Morrison: There is so much I love about how Grant Thornton supports agencies in adopting TBM as a value management framework. It’s why I chose to join the Grant Thornton team. We meet public and private sector organizations where they are, offering a solution suite that can be applied to any level of maturity, whether the organization is just starting; fulfilling reporting requirements; acquiring and implementing automated solutions; integrating IT finance, acquisition, and operations data to mature the cost model; benchmarking; tracking metrics and KPIs; or integrating with other business processes for improved management and governance.
We leverage our strong heritage and competency in finance and accounting and couple that with our IT and change management expertise to partner with organizations to deliver impactful results. Grant Thornton is one of the world’s largest advisory firms, providing a full suite of IT and financial management services for nearly every Federal agency over the last 60 years. TBM isn’t a solution that we sell and then walk away. There is a learning curve for an agency to adopt and implement the framework to realize the full benefits, which is where we come in.
We partner with organizations to deliver value and implement TBM not for the sake of TBM but rather to solve challenges. For instance, TBM can support IT priority attainment such as IT modernization, improved IT management, governance and oversight, cloud migration, and achieving cost savings and efficiencies. We know that one of the biggest TBM adoption impediments is people and culture. Strategic communications and change management are at the forefront of our TBM implementation efforts because it really is about shifting mindsets. We have strategic communication and change management materials to support adoption and utilization. We support the full TBM implementation, integration, and adoption.
MeriTalk: What is your advice for agencies that are thinking about implementing the TBM framework?
Morrison: TBM is a game-changer for government and it’s worth the effort. Implementing the framework doesn’t happen overnight. It is going to take work. If agencies don’t know what they are truly spending on IT, they can’t manage effectively, they can’t fully modernize, and they can’t fully protect themselves against threats. Without gaining that holistic view that the TBM framework enables, 25 years from now the agency IT teams will likely be struggling with the same things they are today. If agencies are willing to do the work, they can transform how they manage and implement IT to support the important missions across the Federal enterprise.