Appropriations

'CIOs shouldn't have five-year plans'

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Although federal agencies will see a steadier budget stream in the coming months, some of the same pressures to keep up IT efficiencies and know-how will continue, according to a panel of federal CIOs.

"We need to continue our discipline as budgets increase, Sonny Hashmi, CIO at the General Services Administration, said during a panel discussion sponsored by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management on Dec. 19. Tight agency budgets of the last few years, he said, have forced more IT discipline, demanding agencies find ways to squeeze more efficiencies and capabilities from technology.

With President Barack Obama's signature on the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill staving off another federal shutdown, federal IT managers still need to keep their eye on the budget ball.

The hard-won discipline learned by federal CIOs in the last few years under budget constraints "needs to continue because every dollar we save in commodity, in common, in reuse -- those things can legitimately, effectively go to a more-commoditized, cheaper, more cost-effective solution,” said Hashmi.

"We need to continue that discipline, because one of the reasons we got to where we are today, why we have thousands of websites, thousands of data centers and thousands of these redundant, duplicative platforms and solutions is because there was just no forcing function to ask yourself the hard questions. And it’s easy to get back into that habit," he said.

That shrewder thinking should also continue in IT procurement, said Karen Britton, CIO in the Office of Administration at the Executive Office of the President.

"We can't do what we've been doing," she said, referencing traditional five-year IT contracts that leave little room for technological evolution. "CIOs shouldn't have five-year plans," she said.

Senior IT managers have to look at alternatives, like two year contracting platforms that leave room for more agile technology insertions, Britton said. While that has been a message to federal IT managers for some time, it has taken a while to sink into the world of complex federal acquisition.

"We've recently had to unlearn waterfall processes. It's like learning a new language," she said.

"We need goals and objectives for five years ahead, not five-year plans," said Tom Sasala, chief technology officer, U.S. Army Information Technology Agency.

The Army is moving to a hyper-converged IT environment and away from IT technology like blades and stand-alone storage, he said. The new environment is virtualized and not as predictable as it once was.

"We're putting together a seven-year IT plan," Sasala said, but it speaks in terms of options, not technological certainties.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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