GAO drafts IT guide

The General Accounting Office has drafted a "how-to" guide for federal agencies

to develop a management process that will help them see a maximum return

on their information technology investments.

IT managers will use the GAO Information Technology Investment Management

(ITIM) framework to assess and improve procedures for deciding what IT to

buy. A year in the making, the 172-page report explains such techniques

as improving project oversight and asset tracking; developing a complete

investment "portfolio," rather than looking at each project individually;

and conducting post-investment reviews.

"It's a good cookbook, a step-by-step "how to make your process good,'

" said Leslie Roberts, manager of IT planning and budget at the Interior

Department. "The maturity model gives you a good guide for conducting

program development."

GAO based the guidelines on a similar management framework, the Capability

Maturity Model, developed by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie

Mellon University and used across the government for managing large software

projects.

Like the software CMM, GAO's IT management framework lays out five stages

of management "maturity" based on the sophistication of the investment

management strategy. In Stage 1, organizations purchase IT without a disciplined

investment process. By Stage 5, organizations make a link between IT projects

and the results of those projects.

The criteria for the levels of IT management are particularly useful,

Roberts said. For instance, to reach Stage 2, an agency must develop and

maintain an IT inventory, and the guide describes what the IT inventory

must include.

Comments on the guide, "Information Technology Investment Management:

A Framework for Assessing and Improving Process Maturity," are due by September,

when GAO expects to release the final version.

In evaluating an agency's IT investment management, GAO will ask the

agency to conduct a self-evaluation, then will work with the agency constructively,

said Lester Diamond, assistant director of GAO's Accounting and Information

Management Division.

In the past, GAO used a guideline that asked agencies 160 questions,

"which gave us 160 answers but no real structure to tell us where the agency

stood," he said.

"ITIM provides a road map for progress," Diamond said. "Once an agency

evaluates itself against it, it can understand what it needs to do to improve.

And it can help them refocus their resources to get to a certain level."

That type of upfront analysis is the missing link of acquisition reform,

said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., a

federal procurement consulting company. Proper management of IT investments

early on is needed to hold agencies responsible for their spending, he said.

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