Agencies' business apps modernization will be risky

Agencies are directing their efforts to business applications modernization—the hardest and riskiest element of transformation—now that they have made significant progress in consolidating their infrastructures.

About 75 percent of large business systems development fails, said Housing and Urban Development Department CIO Lisa Schlosser at an event yesterday sponsored by the Bethesda chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in Bethesda, Md. Several program executives shared their modernization experiences during the event.

Agencies must determine what applications to maintain, update or drop and make sure that whatever is implemented aligns with the department’s enterprise architecture, said Richard Spires, IRS associate CIO for business systems modernization.

IRS is revamping its modernization strategy to accommodate changes in technology and Internet transactions since its last major evaluation. The strategy should be ready internally in March, Spires said.

HUD will release its Vision 2010 Modernization Strategy in February, against which the agency will modernize all its business applications by 2010, Schlosser said.

Applications modernization is difficult and a major reason why so many of these projects fail, said Ed Meagher, outgoing VA chief technology officer. He also said agencies should want to replicate the methods of those who are implementing the 25 percent of systems development that succeed.

“The (federal) IT community must be the tick on the back of the dog. When you finally annoy your business community enough to where they say they’ll change, you’ve got to make sure that they change according to a certain set of rules,” Meagher said.

Agencies must also contend with shrinking budgets and competing priorities, added Tish Tucker, who recently became the business executive for the enterprise operations directorate at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency but was speaking from her experience as the director of the program management office at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

For example, USAID set up a business systems modernization committee to direct the modernization process. However, with a small capital investment fund, when the South Asian tsunami hit in December 2004, the humanitarian agency had to focus on providing aid to disaster victims.

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