OMB faces the metrics challenge

Infrastructure optimization could mean better IT performance and lower costs

The Office of Management and Budget wants to give agencies baseline metrics so they can seek optimum performance from their desktop PCs, data centers and telecommunications networks. Creating those measures will be challenging, which is why OMB has asked companies to bid on the task. But applying those metrics will be another challenge.

If the federal government can establish and implement those metrics, the benefits could exceed expectations, some experts say. 

“Agencies will be able to achieve as much as 30 percent or more in cost savings or cost avoidance from implementing baseline metrics,” said Herb Strauss, research vice president at Gartner Group’s public-sector division. With the information that metrics provide, agencies can negotiate better deals based on volume and activity, for example, Strauss said.

Beyond cost savings and cost avoidance, the use of baseline metrics could enable agencies to optimize their networks’ and data centers’ performance.

OMB requested price quotations in February from vendors on the General Services Administration’s Mission Oriented Business Integrated Services Federal Supply Schedule that could fulfill the government’s need for baseline metrics. The executive steering committee for OMB’s Infrastructure Optimization Line of Business will work with the metrics to try to bring down the cost and raise the overall performance of the government’s IT infrastructure. Bids were due March 21, and GSA expects to award the contract this summer.

The optimization initiative breaks new ground, said Von Harrison, program manager for the Infrastructure line of business. “While there is anecdotal benchmarking in some agencies, this approach has never been done before governmentwide,” he said. “In addition to setting the metrics using industry benchmarks, we must first gain meaningful agency baseline data to measure future performance against.”

For example, agencies must answer difficult questions, such as: What are industry standard prices for specific hardware and software packages?

“When we say we will measure the cost of the desktop, are [we] measuring the cost of the hardware, the operating system and other applications?” said a government official who is knowledgeable about the LOB but  is not authorized to speak about agency matters. “GSA and OMB will come up with a performance reference model for how agencies will measure these things, and it will be the same yardstick for everyone.”

OMB will not tell agencies how to use the metrics, but they must use them, the official said. “Agencies will have a number of solutions to choose from to meet the mandate.”

Baseline performance metrics have been a major industry issue for several years. Some larger companies have developed useful metrics, but those are not readily applicable to the government, said Jason Khan, chief technology officer at SRA International’s Touchstone Consulting Group.

“The government is three or four years behind industry in using metrics and benchmarking,” Khan said. “There are industry metrics that the government can use, but making the comparison to what the government does is very difficult, primarily because of the scale.”

Telecom networks are an exception. Mike O’Malley, director of external marketing at Tellabs, said the government could apply industry metrics to those networks.

“Carrier networks have invested time to manage and monitor the networks so they know what good metrics are,” O’Malley said.
OMB looks for IT infrastructure savingsA group sponsored by the Office of Management and Budget analyzed the $22 billion that agencies spend on information technology infrastructure development, operations and maintenance and reported these findings.
  • Agency spending on IT infrastructure appears to be higher than industry spending as a percentage of total IT spending, which is $65 billion for the government.
  • Almost every federal agency has an optimization initiative under way, but there are no government-wide standards for such initiatives.
  • Infrastructure optimization offers potential savings of about 20 percent at the same or higher service levels. 
  • Governmentwide infrastructure costs cannot be easily calculated.
— Jason Miller

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