Having technologists on the team assessing potential projects and active TMF investments has been a key change over the past year, program leaders told FCW.
Last week, the Office of Management and Budget and General Services Administration announced that $100 million from the Technology Modernization Fund would be designated for projects tied to customer experience efforts.
Clare Martorana, federal chief information officer, and Raylene Yung, TMF executive director, spoke with FCW about the investment.
How does this announcement fit in with the TMF so far – have you seen CX proposals already?
MARTORANA: We have consistently had some CX proposals as part of our 130 submissions that came in when we gave repayment guidance in May of last year... The way that we actually work our proposals is, we'll have primary, secondary and tertiary areas that proposals might hit. Obviously many times a submission from an agency ticks a couple of boxes, right? Customer experience and cybersecurity, modernizing legacy IT systems.
This was really a way that we could synchronize across many of the administration's goals and really focus some attention on customer experience specifically.
Customer experience wasn't necessarily a core part of the focus on IT modernization that was front of mind when TMF was made. Are you expecting members of Congress to be on board and if there is anyone who isn't, what is your pitch to them?
MARTORANA: In the specific guidance that was provided under the American Rescue Plan, two specific things were called out among many others. One was remediation of SolarWinds, so cybersecurity, and issues that became relevant during Covid-19 and many agencies… started delivering almost all of their experiences interacting with the public through digital channels.
Many of our systems were really deficient, and so I think this really speaks to that IT modernization that is needed across the entire federal enterprise.
YUNG: A couple of investments we recently announced ... I think would fit within this guidance as well. One great example is an investment in [the National Archives and Records Administration] that's taking a time-consuming, paper-based process and bringing it online, enabling veterans and millions of people to request records digitally, so that's a great example where I would say that squarely fits into IT modernization -- it's taking a process that's very antiquated and modernizing it, but also has a significant, direct public impact.
How are you measuring the impact for these types of projects?
MARTORANA: We are really focused on project outcomes, full stop. That is part of the methodology we actually use when we're assessing … a project is, what is the benefit to the end customer, whether the customer is the public, a beneficiary of some sort, or even whether the customer is a federal employee that is using a system.
The example that Raylene gave is excellent on NARA because these are paper-based processes and there's an enormous amount of burden both on the public trying to interact with us on paper and then also the federal employees that have to actually process that paper.
So agencies will have to come back to the board with some type of metric, then?
MARTORANA. Absolutely: it is a key part of how we manage this portfolio. What's really different about how we manage TMF in the last… nine months is, we start out our project approval with technologists at the table up front and, in addition to technologists, digital acquisition experts, change management people that have done transformation at agencies. Up front, we look for the value and what the project outcomes are going to be, and then as we go through the process, the agency teams work very closely with the [project management office].
Then, if they are fortunate enough to get an investment from us, we continue to go on the journey with them. We are doing monthly interactions with them. They come in for quarterly reviews in front of the entire board. We don't release money unless they hit very specific milestones that are negotiated ahead of time. We really manage this like an active investment, not like a one-time, you come in, get the money and then, good luck, you're on your own. It is really a very active process between the board, and really the TMF PMO spends an enormous amount of their time managing the active projects.
YUNG: You mentioned this flexible repayment and then how do we show value through metrics, and I just wanted to say those are also tied. The idea of setting a flexible repayment is directly tied to the type of impact and return on investment we think we'll get from an investment. So, disproportionate time, cost savings to the public may factor into reduced repayment rate for the agency. We're looking at a whole, holistic picture of what that return on investment looks like.
Have you been scaling as a staff and organization since the $1 billion investment from ARPA? Are there any other changes organizationally that have happened on the back end of things?
YUNG: In the last several months we're reviewed more proposals and made more investments than the TMF had in the previous three and a half years combined, so everything has really scaled up considerably. That includes the number of staff on the PMO, the expertise of the staff, the deep engagement from the board. I would say the board members have … spent considerable time reviewing proposals with agencies in those monthly and quarterly reviews that Clare mentioned.
Similarly with CX, something that we're excited about [is] … we're also opening new roles to hire additional subject matter experts and technical leads onto the team that can work directly with agencies and our new portfolios of investments.
MARTORANA: It was really important to us to move from a program management operational cadence to really having technologists part of every step of the process. We know that we get better outcomes for technology projects when we have subject matter experts involved in every part of the process.
[Yung] has really transformed the team… Something that the PMO team optimized is the processes normally doing initial project proposals, which some agencies spent an enormous amount of time on. The PMO team designed this kind of 'expression of interest survey.' It's really lightweight. An agency can just submit some project ideas and get very early feedback before they invest a lot of time.
The PMO team under Raylene's leadership has really been working hard to make sure that we are being as responsive as we possibly can to agencies. We know they're under a lot of pressure and we want to really try to be supportive of them and get answers back to them as quickly as possible.