July 27, 2012 – Federal CIOs and CTOs generally gave above-average marks to many ongoing efforts at government IT reform. However, there are better ways to handle priorities, benchmarking and budgeting in the wide-ranging data management and spending reform plan, according to a survey by TechAmerica Foundation.

The nonprofit tech industry association recently introduced its annual survey of government IT leaders, which included a range of responses on trends, spending and concern from approximately 40 government CIOs and CTOs, including Obama Administration CIO Steven VanRoekel. Comments and answers from federal IT leaders were contributed anonymously in the survey.

A year and a half after the 25-point IT management plan was introduced, federal agency data leaders roundly reported that the sweeping level of reform was needed and that it “pushed good thinking.” Respondents noted success and returns from tenets such as reforming IT investment reviews, data center consolidation, and identifying and adopting IT acquisition best practices. In terms of feasibility, progress to date and leadership commitment, the consolidation of hundreds of federal data centers ranked at the top. On a scale of 1 (least) to 5 (most), average rankings for four measurements by TechAmerica of the success of the whole plan so far hovered above average: value to organization (3.5); feasibility (3.5); progress to date (3.0); and leader commitment to further progress (3.7).

A few other specific areas in the plan received less unified support. Plans to develop IT acquisition specialized IT acquisition professionals varied high in value (3.9) but average in progress to date (2.7), and similar wavering was noted in best practices collaboration and the rollout of an IT spending review dashboard known as TechStat.

But in terms of full execution, there is some consternation on the level of success, and input on how it could be better. Criticisms included too much reliance on policy and strategy instead of tangible returns, and a lack of “ruthless” setting of priorities as seen in the private sector. A suggestion repeated by federal department IT leaders was the grouping of reform plans into focus areas, which would “do justice” to more of the plans’ points and give a particular boost to cloud and shared services expectations. At the highest levels of government oversight, IT leaders recommended that the Office of Management and Budget should do more cost/benefit analysis of reform plan measures, as well as reach out for more partnership opportunities with the federal CIO, CFO and chief procurement officer. Something missing from the reform plan is seed money for short-term projects that would max out a department budget, but ultimately find long-term gains, according to federal IT leaders.

There were also noted efficiencies in cross-departmental data center consolidations that have led much of the attention on the 25-point plan. Federal heads found workforce and space savings, and were able to move beyond clunky legacy systems and “outmoded processes.” However, the rollout of the plan raised questions among IT leaders, expressed in the survey, mostly surrounding a “one size fits all approach.” Some consolidation was found to have been taken up based on square footage and not business use cases, according to one CIO in the survey, and the consolidations also exposed department cultural obstacles, more than technical challenges.

The 25-Point Plan, initiated in December 2010 by then-CIO Vivek Kundra and carried on in full by VanRoekel, features the consolidation of data centers, shift of email and some other processes to the cloud, as well as less tangible efforts like designating “formal IT management career paths” for divisions of the U.S. government, which, with a budget at approximately $80 billion annually, is the largest IT customer in the world. According to a CIO.gov dashboard on progress on the plan, 13 initiatives have been delivered, and five ventures are “on track.” Only pillars on modular development and the consolidation of commodity IT spending under an agency CIO were listed as “behind schedule.”

To access a PDF of the TechAmerica survey, click here.