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Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs Published May 2012

Executive Summary Federal Government IT performance has been poor. Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on information technology over the past decade, the Federal Government has achieved just a small portion of the productivity improvements realized by private industry on similar investments. In response, the Chief Information Officer of the Federal Government has mandated dramatic changes in the way IT systems are developed and deployed. These changes are substantial and far reaching, unlike anything Federal Government CIOs have seen before. Complying with these mandates requires a new way of thinking and very different approaches to IT system development. This paper provides an overview of the new directives and introduces a set of operating principles that will enable CIOs and their teams to deliver a better return for the US tax payer. The operating principles are: 1

Adopt “Business Ready Technology”

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Move from “Best of Breed” to “One Platform, One Environment”

3 Scrap the Traditional Approach to Gathering Requirements and Writing RFPs 4

Focus on Flexibility, Not Just “Cloud”

5

Think “Lead the Receiver”

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Begin with Mobile and Social in Mind

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Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs

Introduction The new era for Federal agency CIOs started in 2010 with the release of Vivek Kundra’s 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management. Kundra did not mince words in his rebuke of Federal IT performance to date: “Despite spending more than $600 billion on information technology over the past decade, the Federal Government has achieved little of the productivity improvements that private industry has realized from IT. Too often, Federal IT projects run over budget, behind schedule, or fail to deliver promised functionality. Many projects use “grand design” approaches that aim to deliver functionality every few years, rather than breaking projects into more manageable chunks and demanding new functionality every few quarters. In addition, the Federal Government too often relies on large, custom, proprietary systems when ‘light technologies’ or shared services exist.” There are numerous examples of poorly performing government IT projects. One noteworthy failure spawned an investigation by the United States Government Accountability Office. The October, 2010 report noted that the Department of Defense was in the process of implementing nine separate ERP programs for common back-office functions. Six of the nine ERPs have experienced schedule delays ranging from 2 to 12 years and five have incurred cost increases ranging from $530 million to $2.4 billion. The Federal Government can no longer accept such poor performance. Kundra put Federal Government CIOs are on notice that they must: Deliver IT solutions faster, for less money, and with fewer resources

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Deliver working functionality in cycles of less than six months Deploy applications to end users no more than 18 months after program initiation Favor newer “light technologies” over large, custom, proprietary systems Implement shared services both within and across agency borders Move existing applications to the cloud and ensure new applications are cloud-ready

Design applications with “future-ready” architectures and maximum use of standards

Specific steps to achieve these goals were outlined in the 25-point plan, including a number of directives commonly known as “the Firsts.”

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Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs

The New “First” Mandates Kundra outlined specific changes for meeting Federal government software application needs. Item #3 on the list states, “Beginning immediately, the Federal Government will shift to a ‘Cloud First’ policy.” By moving applications to the cloud, agencies can avoid system inaccessibility during peak loads, something that has slowed the government’s ability to achieve defined policy objectives, such as happened with the 2009 release of the dealer registration system behind the “Cash-for-Clunkers” program. The benefits of cloud computing include direct savings from a “pay-as-you-go” approach, flexibility to meet demand spikes, and shorter time to application deployment. Cloud is now the government’s official “default” for application deployment. Anyone not deploying in the cloud must demonstrate that no secure, reliable, and cost-effective cloud option exists. With the rapid growth of secure cloud options, few applications will fit this exception. Item #6 on the list introduces “Shared First,” an initiative designed to increase return on investment (ROI), eliminate waste and duplication, and improve the effectiveness of technology solutions. Shared First, more formally known as the Federal Information Technology Shared Services Strategy, was laid out in detail in a draft strategy document from the office of Steven VanRoekel, current Federal Chief Information Officer. Shared First is about reducing the wasteful spending that results from duplicative IT solutions. For example, a review of over 7,000 agency IT investments submitted in Fiscal Year 2010 revealed hundreds of redundancies in support and commodity IT resources across the Federal Government and billions of dollars in potential savings through consolidation and shared services. Shared First can be boiled down to this very important principle: Wherever a business process or IT function can be reasonably altered in order to utilize an existing asset as opposed to performing new development, agencies must do so. This is again another change to the “default setting” for IT investment decisions. The utilization of existing resources is now clearly favored over the development of new components. The “Future First” initiative was also introduced in the draft IT shared services strategy document. It is best defined as “a set of principles for agencies to consider when embarking on planning, development, and modernization efforts.” The current Future First principles include the broad adoption of XML, virtualization, and other open standards. The list of principles will evolve as technology advances. This is again a change in the default setting of the government. It is intended to make sure CIOs implement common standards so that agency assets are prepared to share data and functionality with one another in coming years.

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Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs

There is no “Mobile First” initiative yet, but it’s a good bet that there will be one soon. CIO VanRoekel announced a mobile roadmap for the Federal Government in a blog post on January 11th, 2012. VanRoekel is pushing agencies to make their services available to an increasingly mobile nation while simultaneously increasing the mobility of the federal workforce. The Shared First paper notes the importance of providing infrastructure to support smart telework policies to give Federal employees flexibility while reducing the Government’s real estate footprint. Making applications mobile will also shorten response time in emergencies and improve productivity at remote work sites. Likewise, we should expect a “Social First” initiative as the use of collaboration tools continues to rise in the private sector.

Making Sense of All the “Firsts” Federal CIOs have a lot to digest. They have been asked to change their default approach to how they shape IT infrastructure in at least three major dimensions with rapid compliance expected. Rather than trying to track each of these as separate initiatives, it makes sense to look at them as a whole and distill out new guiding principles that will facilitate complete compliance. CIOs who do this will be well positioned to lead this transformation. Here’s a set of guiding principles for Federal CIOs to follow that come from thinking through each of the current and likely future “First” initiatives.

Principle #1 – Adopt “Business Ready Technology” Every CIO wants software applications that perfectly support their agency’s mission. The most direct way to do this has been custom development. Lots of government applications were created that way. But high initial costs, unclear and mis-communicated requirements, long development cycles, and substantial change costs pushed custom developed applications out of favor. Federal CIOs then focused on commercial off-the-shelf applications (COTS). But COTS applications have many short comings. It’s hard for agencies to enunciate their current needs in sufficient detail and predict likely future ones, which means most RFPs for COTS products are incomplete. Further complicating this is the fact that vendors can state “yes” to a requirement as written, only to have agency users figure out six months later that they didn’t ask the right question.

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Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs

A hard reality of COTS shows up when agencies ask for modifications. They learn that they are only one of many customers. Vendors have to trade off their needs against others, resulting in slow response to modification requests or high charges for customization. This results in incomplete functionality which spawns numerous manual “workaround” processes. These workarounds break the control and visibility that was often the main reason for deploying the software in the first place. More than a few deployments have been scrapped at this point at substantial cost to taxpayers. As neither traditional custom developed nor COTS applications are able to meet the new mandates, what is an agency CIO to do? The answer lies in new, modern technology platforms that can create custom applications with a fraction of the time or expense of traditional development. In a new report from Forrester Research titled, “The Process-Driven Business Of 2020,” Connie Moore notes that one of the biggest drivers of change for companies in the coming decade is that the IT department will vanish into the business. Facilitating this is “business ready technology” such as modern Business Process Management (BPM) platforms which abstract technical complexity away from business users and gives them easy ways to configure and change applications.1 BPM software enables government teams to deliver the finely tailored functions of a custom developed application with less time and expense than it takes just to configure a COTS solution. Changes to applications are fully under the control of the end-user organization, not a third-party software company, and cost a fraction of what changes to traditional custom developed applications cost. BPM is adept at wrapping and extending existing applications so agencies can avoid wholesale “rip and replace” projects. Ongoing improvements to the core BPM platform (supplied by the vendor) help to ensure compliance with Future First. As Federal CIOs adopt business-ready technology like BPM, business process stakeholders will become less dependent on IT to design and configure processes to create new applications.

Principle #2 – Move from “Best of Breed” to “One Platform, One Environment” Once CIOs understand the impact “business ready technology” has, the natural next step is to let go of the idea best of breed solutions. Organizations have traditionally purchased software from different vendors to obtain the best application for each need. It is not uncommon for 1

Forrester Research, “The Process Driven Business of 2020”, by Connie Moore, 4/16/12

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Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs

Federal agencies to have a human resources package from one vendor, an accounting package from another, and custom developed applications for mission specific needs. Not only does this approach introduce the problems noted above, different systems don’t naturally communicate and work well together. Despite having the best software for any particular need, overall IT performance suffers. Each application is licensed separately with its own maintenance expense so costs are high and economies of scale are not possible. The rapid growth of mobile further exacerbates the scale problem as CIOs find themselves creating multiple versions of mobile applications for each major platform. Business process management software captures the benefits of best of breed without the downsides. CIOs no longer need to search to find the best existing application since they can create just what their organization needs. The risk of user rejection can be minimized as each new application leverages the same platform, creating a single user environment. This saves users from having to login to a hodgepodge of different software packages. If the BPM vendor prices per user instead of per application, then CIOs can realize great economies of scale as they build more and more applications on the single BPM platform. Some BPM platforms come with native mobile clients for each major platform (iOS, Android, and Blackberry), removing the need to do any mobile development. Even greater economies of scale are possible if Federal CIOs share the core of their applications with other agencies. Such “frameworks” can be tailored to fit each agency’s specific mission saving substantial development costs.

Principle #3 – Scrap the Traditional Approach to Gathering Requirements and Writing RFPs Traditional “waterfall” development approaches are inherently slow. The great time lag involved requires planners (and procurement officers) to fully document every known requirement and predict future requirements so they can be built into a custom system or used to evaluate COTS products. Not only does this create lots of work, it’s an impossible task. Often users don’t know what they want (or what’s possible) until they get hands-on experience with new technology. RFP evaluations often show that certain features are present in a product offering (getting a “check” in the box), only to have users realize six months after implementation that they didn’t ask for what they really wanted. This massive process of documenting and predicting requirements is right at the heart of the Federal Government IT performance problem. As long as the government focuses on COTS products, this problem can never go away. It could go away if the government moved back to custom development with a shift to “agile” development approaches where applications are built in “sprints” with frequent user feedback. But custom development will still be slow and costly if developers use traditional hard-coding approaches. The key is to adopt new business ready technologies that shift the work from Be Part of the Process

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Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs

“coding” to “configuring,” abstracting away technology details and allowing business users and IT staff to work together using a common language and a visual development environment. With this approach, there’s no need to specify all possible requirements. Federal software buyers just need to document core requirements and a list of desired functionality. The RFP process would shift so that bidders propose a platform and a number of hours required to create the functionality. The government would receive a product that would be unique for its needs, without being locked into a brittle solution that’s hard and expensive to change. Expansion of functionality can come in later phases.

Principle #4 – Focus on Flexibility, Not Just “Cloud” “Cloud First” means deployment in the cloud must be the default approach. At the same time, the “Future First” directive would guide agencies to retain maximum flexibility. That means Federal CIOs should expect that in some cases applications will go to the cloud, but in others, they will need to be behind firewalls. What is “cloud-able” today may have to be put behind a firewall tomorrow and vice-versa. A designation either way could change over time or in the case of different uses. How can Federal CIOs meet both mandates? The answer is to only buy and build applications on technology that can easily be moved between cloud and on-premise deployment. Again, BPM software holds the answer. The most advanced BPM technology is designed from the ground up for both environments, and delivers an identical platform in either deployment method. Any application built on top of it – including all associated artifacts like documents, audit trails, etc. – can be “wrapped up” and transferred through a single-click export. A 100-percent web-based architecture is essential for this, giving users and developers a consistent application experience purely through a web browser.

Principle #5 – Think “Lead the Receiver” At first, getting your head around “Future First” seems daunting. Are we being asked to predict the future and design our applications to fit? Yes, to some extent. But since no one can predict the future, all you can do is prepare for it. What “Future First” really boils down to is make your applications as naturally open and adaptable as possible. Achieving this goal simply requires understanding what new technologies are becoming available and ensuring your designs avoid closed ends that would preclude adaptation to them. It’s really just thinking a few steps ahead, hence the football analogy that throwing a great pass requires aiming at where the receiver is going, not where they are. Be Part of the Process

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Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs

There are already a number of design principles that are considered to be compliant with Future First. They include using the XML data format, supporting server virtualization, and adopting open standards. CIOs need to require that any licensed or developed applications be evaluated for compliance on these points and additional ones that get added over time. They should also evaluate for a number of other core capabilities such as minimizing changes to underlying code to support additional uses, including fully customizable workflow, using only web browser interfaces, supporting “build once, deploy anywhere” to account for emergent platforms and operating systems, and enhanced security to support data privacy and protect against hacking.

Principle #6 – Begin with Mobile and Social in Mind A perfect example of “leading the receiver” is anticipating that the next directives will include a requirement that all applications be securely mobile-enabled and include built-in social collaboration with context. The growth in use of smart phones and tablets already guarantees the first while the failure of e-mail as an efficient tool for monitoring and accomplishing work guarantees the second. As Steve Covey noted in Habit #2 of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the odds of success are much greater whenever you begin with the end in mind. Mobile and Social have to be part of “the end” for any application entering development or any COTS evaluation. Making mobile a standard makes sense on many levels. Many government activities happen out in the field, not behind a desk. Workers are more productive if their technology follows them rather than them having to make a trip back to connect with their technology. Making applications mobile also supports increased telework, making employees happier and reducing the real estate agencies have to devote to employees. Social collaboration tools naturally follow mobile, but only if they put social collaboration in the context of a work process or activity, not as a stand-alone application. This is best accomplished when work events are automatically published to the social stream where employees communicate.

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Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs

Conclusion We’ve clearly entered a new era for Federal Government information systems and applications. The failures of past investments to achieve desired goals have led the Government to mandate new approaches. CIOs and their staffs have no choice but to evolve and do so rapidly. Some Federal agencies have already adopted business process management software (BPM) and are ahead of the game. They have experienced great benefits across areas such as procurement, personnel management, and grants management as well as agency-specific applications. These applications were tailored to their needs in less time and with less expense than it would take to deploy a traditional COTS application. CIOs of these agencies don’t worry about changing conditions as they know their software can be easily adapted. The path to truly effective and cost efficient government applications has been paved. It’s time for you to follow.

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About the Author Evan McDonnell is Appian’s Vice President of Solutions. As senior executive at multiple software companies over the past twenty years, Evan has maintained a steady focus on helping organizations achieve competitive advantage and operational efficiencies through better use of technology. Evan continually strives to understand what prevents organizations from utilizing software to its full potential and using that insight to drive breakthrough software business models. Evan has had responsibility for functions including product management, marketing, business development, and mergers and acquisitions. He holds a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

About Appian Appian is the global innovator in enterprise and cloud-based business process management (BPM) software. Appian’s combination of simplicity and power provides everything business users need to drive transformational process improvement – on the desktop or via mobile devices. Commercial and government organizations around the globe use Appian to increase agility and collaboration, and accelerate business performance. Appian empowers more than 3 million users from large Fortune 100 companies, to the mid-market and small businesses worldwide. Appian is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. region, with professional services and partners around the globe. For more information, visit www.appian.com.

Corporate headquarters 1875 Explorer Street 4th Floor Reston, VA 20190 703.442.8844 appian.com

Adapting to the New Information Technology Directives: A Guide for Federal Government CIOs  

This paper provides an overview of the new directives and introduces a set of operating principles that will enable CIOs and their teams to...

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