'Shared First' could limit IT choices to gain efficiencies

Federal officials can picture a leaner and an agile government that could result if agencies will adopt a shared services approach to carrying out IT functions, according to a document laying out the “Shared First” strategy. But several days after Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel announced it, agencies and industry are trying to understand the draft policy.

The "Shared First” proposal is the foundational paradigm for the Federal IT Shared Services Strategy, which gives agencies guidance on identifying, setting up, and operating shared services for commodity and support functions, according to the document dated Dec. 8.

So rather than each agency choosing the IT it wants to use for functions that are common across agencies, OMB wants agencies to give certain services to one agency to handle for other agencies. A shared service is a function that is provided by one organization for consumption by multiple organizations within or between federal agencies. One key question that appears to be a matter of interpretation is whether agencies providing shared services will have to compete with private-sector providers, writes Jason Miller at Federal News Radio.

Shared First's primary focus is consolidating intra-agency commodity IT services to get more efficiency and better delivery of services. In August, Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, ordered agency CIOs to eliminate duplication and rationalize their agency’s IT investments. Lew wrote that commodity IT services, such as data centers and web infrastructure, and even administrative functions, often overlap. He doesn't want that any longer in this economic climate.

To adopt the Shared First strategy though, “federal agency CIOs are positioned for leadership in this effort,” the document states.

Officials are considering a phased approach, starting with intra-agency commodity IT services, like email and help desk work. Then the strategy would move into commodity and support functions, such as back-office duties, including human resource management. Finally officials want improvements to agencies’ mission IT, which is a category of IT services for the front office tied to agency's business functions.

By first starting with existing commodity IT service frameworks, agencies can develop a strong base of knowledge around shared IT services.

“Once this base is solidified, the Shared First strategy will evolve along the value chain, creating new opportunities in core mission areas,” according to the draft document.

Officials plan to release a final version of the strategy by April.

Before then, they want agencies to start a Shared First plan that includes moving at least two commodity IT functions to a shared environment by the end of 2012.

Agencies also need to assess current services and develop benchmarks to measure quality and the uptake of services, as well as figuring out how to further improve services.

“This reflects a crawl, walk, run approach in terms of dealing with the complexity of implementing shared IT services,” the document states.

With tight budgets and increasing demands on agencies' requirements, shared IT services can save money. “Shared IT services will help create a federal government that is leaner, more agile and more efficient,” officials wrote in the document.

They developed the strategy based on OMB’s 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management, which was released in 2010. One of the points was to build a shared services strategy that was based on early successes in shared services.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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