I-TIPS aids spending analyses

The Information Technology Investment Portfolio System sounds like a fancy method for finding the next hot technology stock, but in reality it has nothing to do with investing in a 401(k) or mutual funds.

The World Wide Web-based I-TIPS helps federal chief information officers and information technology managers answer questions about IT spending and analyze proposals for how to spend an agency's IT budget.

I-TIPS, designed to be used with an existing IT capital planning process, responds to CIOs' call for a system that takes into account procurement guidelines set by the Office of Management and Budget and the General Accounting Office.

"It's an automated system that allows you to capture the data you are using for capital planning and allows you to report it, which is mandatory under the Clinger-Cohen Act," said Shereen Remez, the CIO of the General Services Administration and co-chairwoman of the CIO Council's Capital Planning and IT Investment Committee.

Given a set budget for IT spending, agencies can use I-TIPS to help select, control and evaluate IT investments, apply best practices, consolidate existing IT databases, create a single repository for all IT initiatives, construct a balanced portfolio of IT investments and comply with federal IT procurement laws.

Momentum has been building since the system received the blessing of the CIO Council in the spring, Remez said, and now those who want to know more about the system can turn to a Web site designed to help spread the gospel.

I-TIPS Online (www.itips.gov), which went live about four months ago, gives an introduction to I-TIPS, which originated at the Energy Department about 18 months ago. The availability of the site coincides with the CIO Council's push to make the system the first automated IT architecture adopted by all government agencies.

So far eight agencies have installed I-TIPS, and at least two are in the process of installing it, said James King, the project manager of I-TIPS and a systems analyst at DOE. About 10 other agencies have made serious inquiries or commitments to adopt it, he said.

IT managers who seek information at I-TIPS Online will find a home page that admits it is a work in progress. But key information is available by clicking on Investment Manager, Portfolio Manager, Collaborative Tools, Reporting and Administration, and on modules governing the selection, control and evaluative process.

Each of those categories is described in detail, and some include screen shots of graphical user interfaces to give readers an idea of I-TIPS' look and feel. But the site's most helpful feature is an offer of one month of unlimited access to the system, for which users can register through a link on the home page.

"For 30 days we allow you to do just about everything the system will allow," King said. Previously, anyone interested in giving I-TIPS a test drive had to log on to DOE's site, and that was a cumbersome process, King said.

I-TIPS Online also serves the CIO Council's ultimate goal of making the system the first automated governmentwide IT architecture by publicizing information about I-TIPS in the hope that CIOs will voluntarily jump on the bandwagon.

The council had an opportunity in the spring to make the use of I-TIPS mandatory but voted that down in the belief that a good tool will sell itself, Remez said.

After its initial phase at DOE last year, the system was nurtured with seed money from the Government Information Technology Services Board and the Interagency Management Council, King said. DOE hired Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc. and collaborated with the Agriculture Department to develop the initial system.

With development costs already covered, the system's price of $15,000 is a bargain, Remez said. But she warned that I-TIPS is only a tool and not a substitute for having a team and a structure.

"In order for this system to work, you have to have a group of people who make decisions about capital planning," Remez said. "It is the automated tool that allows you to capture and use and reuse the information that you are collecting about your portfolio; it is not the capital planning process itself. That's a very important point. It takes people too."

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