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4 steps toward IT consolidation

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The federal government faces several IT consolidation challenges -- including scope, prioritization, staffing/leadership, process and data-integrity demands. However, there are four things agencies can do to prepare for consolidation:

1. Know the requirements, and know your responsibilities

Between the Department of Defense and civilian authorities, there have been a number of mandates and directives over the years, each one with a different set of requirements. Here's a breakdown of the major policies, and how they evolved over time:

  • In 1995, DoDD 8220 sought to ensure the "effective and efficient usage of the full spectrum of information technologies to eliminate the requirement for each DoD Component to establish, operate, and maintain duplicative capabilities." However, after its release, the number of data centers across the government ironically exploded from 200 to more than 1,100, leading to subsequent directives.
  • In 2010, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative responded to the identification of more than 2,000 government data centers by requiring agencies to reduce "the cost of data center hardware, software, and operations; shifting IT investments to more efficient computing platforms; (and) promoting the use of Green IT by reducing the overall energy and real estate footprint of government data centers," among other measures.
  • In 2014, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act expanded the authority of CIOs; sought savings through IT portfolio reviews; required enhanced transparency and improved risk management in IT investments; and, again, called for the consolidation of data centers.
  • Released in June 2015, OMB Memorandum M-15-14, ("Management and Oversight of Information Technology") provided agency CIOs with guidance for implementing and measuring progress toward meeting the goals of consolidation, as set forth in FITARA.

With very specific FITARA terms and requirements – and real barriers to success such as lack of upfront funding, an aggressive timeline for return on investment, poor visibility into the existing IT supply chain and organizational resistance to change – CIOs should look to guidance set forth by the Office of Management and Budget.

In order to improve the acquisition and management of "common" IT and software licensing, for example, OMB directs agencies to appoint a software manager to centralize license management and reduce duplicated acquisitions; maintain an organization-wide inventory of software licenses; and consolidate redundant applications.

2. Develop a consolidation strategy

Just like any other major project, success requires strategy – setting targets and timelines, identifying risks and capturing ideas. At a high level, a strategy should include:

  • Planning. Set the objectives and goals of the consolidation according to FITARA directives. Assess IT resources and oversight to analyze what's needed that does not currently exist, as opposed to simply taking inventory of what you have in terms of people, processes and technology.
  • Impact and dependencies. Once an agency has a handle on its needs, decision makers should focus on understanding how consolidation will impact their organization, as well as how it could affect the mission. It's also important to understand interdependencies within applications, systems, networks, and other IT functions to ensure that critical applications and support tools are running on current hardware or virtualized environments and transport.
  • Gap identification. Spend the time up front to identify and know what your gaps are and plan to address each, either by accepting the risk and allowing a gap to continue or taking action to eliminate it with new investments in systems, tools, processes and personnel.
  • Communication. With any consolidation comes change, be it copying and moving data, physically moving servers or changing URLs. These are steps that, depending upon the technical prowess of your employees, will introduce unfamiliar and possibly unwelcome changes to your end-users. Let your users know well in advance of the consolidation and what will happen during the transition. Expect questions, concerns and even resistance. Establish a single source for information and make sure the latest information is available and the overall message remains consistent.
  • A phased approach. Once plans are established, execute them on a small scale with a subset of users or test accounts. Or, when possible, consolidate in phases, targeting different servers and user groups in each phase. No one ever wants to have to reverse all the work accomplished, so taking a phased approach ensures that if something goes awry, the rollback will minimize pain points. Unforeseen roadblocks are inevitable, so be prepared to shift your consolidation schedule to ensure services remain stable.

3. Explain why it matters

Leadership should explain the importance of the consolidation. With seemingly incessant talk about cost savings, it can be easy to forget what the savings actually mean, especially for the end user. Employees need to understand what drives the value of a consolidation, so they can understand and leverage the benefits.

4. Measure

If consolidation is supposed to bring efficiencies, cost savings and a better experience for end users, it's important to measure and document the pre-consolidation state. The following are basic areas to measure where improvements should matter the most:

  • Total energy consumption and costs
  • Downtime and availability
  • Service desk ticket volume
  • IT facilities and energy usage
  • IT hardware and software assets and utilization
  • Environmental impact
  • Service levels
  • Software licenses and service contracts

Once consolidation is complete, measure those same areas again to capture the targeted improvements and efficiencies then share it with the rest of your agency.

Consolidation won't happen overnight. It takes time to plan, prepare and execute. And, over this time, mandates and internal requirements may change. While you may know your projected pre-consolidation growth over the next 10 years – such as number of employees, contracts or agency strategic goals – that number will likely change as a result of consolidation. Re-evaluate those projections, account for the new environment and other changes, and be sure to build out adequate infrastructure to support your agency in the long run.

And, always, remember your people – from your customers and end users to your service desk and IT staff. An organization that fixates on technology while failing to prioritize its mission, people and customer service will likely experience problems.

Initially, a "do more with less" directive sounds intimidating to a workforce. But by demonstrating the value of reduced costs, boosted efficiencies and the overall strengthening of your agency's performance – while implementing optimal planning, measuring and communications about success stories and lessons learned – employees are much more likely to embrace the changes, instead of fearing any potential negative consequences.

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