Common Sense IT Revolution?

Atkins Diet. Metabolism Miracle.  Fen Phen.  The 25-Point Plan.  There’s no shortage of gorgeous slim-and-trim gimmicks.  GAO tells us that IT cholesterol is rising – Uncle Sam now spends 80 percent of the $86.4 billion on legacy IT.  Yesterday’s blubber’s chocking today’s innovation.  So, what’s next?  Legacy liposuction, software spanx, perhaps a binary bypass?  Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to get clean and sober about fixing Fed IT.  Five practical, actionable steps that will make a real difference.

1. Put the Pie Down
If you want to lose weight, the first step is to stop pushing pies into your pie hole.  The same is true for trimming Fed IT.  We need to find a way to starve out the massive legacy investments so we can transition to more economic, lower-calorie alternatives – cloud or other. It’s binary – if we change nothing, nothing will change.

2. Do What Athletes Do
The world’s most efficient IT organizations embrace the CMM software development maturity model andITIL to align IT investments with desired business outcomes.  Ironically, these two pole-star standards for IT excellence were pioneered in government.  But for some reason, agencies aren’t required to use these frameworks to improve their IT capabilities.  Why not?

3. Change the Company You Keep

Making a change isn’t easy.  As I’ve wrestled with smoking over the years, I’ve had to stop hanging out with friends that smoke.  More important than FITARA, CIOs need hire-and-fire authority for all IT personnel – and they need to be allowed to reward super performers.  There’s a precedent:, Agencies can do this today for cyber security pros.  Why not spread it across IT?

4. Multi-Year Money
It’s impossible to change your diet and exercise regimen if you’re living hand to mouth. You can’t prioritize available funds to drive to positive new outcomes – that’s why a lot of street people shuffle to the Golden Arches. That’s true for Fed IT.  We look for real, meaningful change, but only provide our IT execs with one-year money.  We need to give agencies the ability to access multi-year appropriations to fund significant modernization initiatives.  The CDM revolving capital fund provides a precedent.  Why not apply it more broadly?

5. Data Diet Plan and Version Control

You are what you eat – and our government ingests and runs on data.  And, let’s be honest, our data’sall over the place. This drives up storage cost, it inflates application and professional services expenses, and it balloons our cyber attack-surface vulnerabilities.  It’s time for agencies to get data centric – define data models across the enterprise and map to those models at the onset of each new engagement.  This discipline will drive huge savings.  And, as portion control’s critical to a healthy diet, version control is central to IT wellness.  Too many agencies realize false savings by running out-of-data operating systems – XP anybody?  Agencies need to stay within one or two versions of the current code.  Currency and consistency boost capabilities, as well as cut cholesterol and cyber liability.

Five not 25 steps.  Only one mention of cloud.  Not that taxing.  Who’s up for changing our IT diet?

Steve O'Keeffe
About Steve O'Keeffe
The most connected executive in the government technology community – O'Keeffe is an accomplished entrepreneur and tech-policy expert, with 30 years’ experience as an innovator at the crossroads of government and industry. He founded MeriTalk, O'Keeffe & Company, 300Brand, among other entities. O'Keeffe is a fixture on the Hill, in both the House and Senate, testifying on IT, budget, government workforce, and the requirement to modernize government IT to enhance outcomes for the American people and government employees. He is a champion for change, simplification, transparency, and clear communication of IT value without jargon. A committed philanthropist, O'Keeffe has served for 15 years on the USO-Metro Board of Directors – Vice Chairman of the Board and Chair of the Annual Awards Dinner. He started his career as a journalist – O'Keeffe has contributed to The Economist, Government Executive, Signal Magazine, The Washington Post, and, of course, MeriTalk.