The key to successful IT modernization, which is an imperative for federal agencies, is proper planning and alignment with goals, objectives and the overall strategic plan, according to a recent presentation by Dr. Barry West, chief information and chief privacy officer for the FDIC. Dr. West shared an additional 12 that he feels are essential to successful IT modernization, he has used in prior professional experience and is currently implementing at the FDIC in its modernization efforts. According to Dr. West, he is working on an IT assessment of the overall landscape at the FDIC and has designed a three-month track to lay out the areas of the organization, from workforce to help desk, infrastructure, software development and overall structure.
As those assessments come in, Dr. West and his team will feed them into an updated IT strategic plan and align them to the overall FDIC strategic plan. That is where the work begins. “Many agencies create the strategic plan, check the box, but don’t execute on it,” Dr. West shared. “We will operationalize the IT strategic plan.”
To that end, he and his team will create tactical plans, build them and assign people to them. Each tactical plan will include a budget, timeline, performance metrics and level of risk. He pointed out that while the contracting community can be involved the process, it cannot lead the process, and, he said, the IT department needs to “keep the current train running, while you look at how you can modernize and enhance your current network.”
Here are the keys that Dr. West feels are imperative for IT modernization success at any agency:
1. Leadership – this is the most important element. When an agency is driving technology and innovation, it needs leaders who are willing to take risks and push the envelope. The IT leader must be willing to risk an idea being shot down in order to meet the mission.
2. Executive Support – a direct line to an agency chairman in order to regularly to brief him or her on important initiatives is very important. Dr. West reports to the FDIC chairman and has the opportunity to meet with agency’s advisory committee. He says that CIOs cannot be layered down in an organization and expect to make change. “In that scenario, IT looks like nothing more than a budget line item and we aren’t able to leverage what we need,” he shared.
3. Deep line involvement and engagement – create and nurture strong relationships with the business units. Relationships and trust between the CIO and the business units are what drive change.
4. Flexibility and agility – IT departments must be progressively quicker and more agile to meet the pace of business. Resources must be willing to change and multi-task. “Gone are the days where there were people two or three deep who could get things done when you weren’t around,” he explained. In addition, Dr. West said that mobile workforce of today is pushing agencies to better prepare to respond quickly to requests from both internal and external constituents.
5. Staff training and development – build training into your budget and to your timelines and push to keep them when budget cuts are made.
6. Repeatable processes that align with policy – create consistent, repeatable processes for modernization and stick with that policy going forward.
7. Align technological advances to support business strategy – trends like mobility, social integration, collaboration, big data and data analytics are tough to keep up with and sometimes tough to sell, Dr. West shared. “You can’t just get into a room with your business units and say, ‘Well, we are phasing out Blackberry and moving to the iPhone, and this is how it is going to work.’” You must be able to offer strong business cases, align the change with why it is important to business goals and show a return on investment.
8. Soft skills – a CIO must not be afraid to sell, push the envelope or told “no.” Moreover, a CIO needs to be very prepared when presenting modernization efforts to the COO. “You must be prepared to show statistics on what other agencies and financial institutions are using, how much it is going to cost, the cost savings associated with it and what it will mean to the business,” he explained.
9. Communications and collaboration – no one likes meetings, but you need them. Keep them to 60 minutes or less
10. Relationships – establish strong working relationships with procurement and the CFO in order to be creative with the money available to fund your modernization efforts. Sitting down and discussing how to get from point A to point B while staying within procurement rules, current contracts and the budget can take creativity.
11. Industry relationships – be active in groups and associations and participate in them. It will help you get to the next level. You have to network, and you need to make the time.
12. Leverage analyst firms – while analyst firms cost money, they have subject matter experts and excellent analysts who can help you understand the impact and advantages of technology trends.
Is your agency undergoing IT modernization? What are your best practices or tips? Share them here.