Five hurdles for business cases

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Every agency has areas in which it does well and areas in which it struggles when developing business cases for information technology investments. The Office of Management and Budget has identified five common problem areas in the fiscal 2004 budget process:

1. Setting performance goals, metrics and measurements.

As is indicated by the trouble agencies are having with the Government Performance and Results Act reports and the White House's Program Assessment Rating Tool, this is a problem not just for IT investments. For the IT business cases, "it's not a really good picture. We're still working hard on this," said Bill McVay, former deputy branch chief for IT and policy in OMB's Office of E-Government and IT.

2. Analyzing the benefits of the entire investment for the agency and the mission.

The biggest challenge in this area seems to be getting agencies to think of all parts of an IT investment, including the people and processes, not just the technology, McVay said. It is also a challenge to get them to think of it as an investment, not just a project, he said.

3. Identifying true alternatives to the original envisioned solution.

This is one of the weakest areas, McVay said. And it is among the most important if agencies are to use IT to help them change how they deliver services, said Mark Forman, administrator of the OMB e-government office. "This is a very, very important point because we know that you have to do this to get past the paving of cowpaths," he said.

4. Determining realistic life cycle costs.

There is a lot of room for agencies to improve here, McVay said. They need to be looking at costs that are truly adjusted for the risk faced by the investment over time — such as the possibility that a solution will change or more people will be needed — instead of basing costs on a "miracles happen" vision of the perfect project, he said.

5. Using an incremental management process, known as the Earned Value Management System.

OMB will focus on getting agencies to use this Defense Department-originated process in which investments are managed in segments, each with its own set of goals for cost, schedule and performance, Forman said.

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