Post-sequester tips for CIOs

Belt-tightening is a given, but now is the time to revisit strategic planning, expert advises.

bills with tight belt

Belt-tightening is a given, but now is the time to revisit strategic planning. (Stock image)

No one knows how long the sequester will last, but agency CIOs should not stop making long-term plans while dealing with the short-term crisis, according to an industry expert.

The importance of operating with leaner budgets has not been lost on the government sector. Even before the sequester became a reality, U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel repeatedly emphasized the need for agencies to work with increasingly limited resources. (View VanRoekel's presentation, "Doing More With Less," here.)

With the sequester now in full effect, however, CIOs have no choice but to focus on belt-tightening. But that should not be their only concern, said Chip Gliedman, vice president and principal analyst serving CIOs at Forrester Research. CIOs need to consider what will happen after the sequester.

"We don't know how long the sequester will last, we don't know what's going to happen with the continuing resolution, and we don't know what's going to happen next time there is a crisis du jour," he said. "We have a lot of short-term tactical planning taking place, both in the mission side and in the IT side in these agencies. What I worry most about is these two getting out of sync."

CIOs should consider adding certain elements to their to-do lists in light of the sequester, starting with reviewing their agencies' strategic plans, Gliedman said. However, they should also remember that short-term funding for three to six months is never an ideal place to start. "You can't build an agency plan around that," he said.

CIOs should also discuss how IT will be expected to support the transition from current to long-term plans and goals.

"Agencies write their strategic plans roughly every year or two, and then they're put on the shelf," Gliedman said. "This is a time when it would make sense to revisit them. You have to figure out where you're going and how you're going to get there. If you're going to be a 'leaner' agency, you're going to focus less on this and more on that."

Another step is to look over programs, projects, initiatives and staffing levels to ensure that agencies are getting as much as they can out of them. In some cases, IT might not be the solution to an issue and could be more of a hindrance than a help.

As agencies change what they are doing in response to new budget priorities, "IT needs to be able to support whatever those changes are," he said.

Agencies have long had to cut corners and find savings wherever possible, but Gliedman recommended that CIOs take a fresh approach to cutting costs across the organization and free resources to devote to enhancing agency capabilities.

"You have to be careful that you're not just shifting from one budget category to another," he said. "The only way you can make any changes to the cost structure at this point will be if you make philosophical changes to how you acquire software. In some cases, that will [mean] to work on how to share across agencies or groups."

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