Last week was budget week. On Friday I attended an AFCEA Bethesda breakfast on, again, the FY 2012 Federal IT Budget. This time I (and 400 of my closest friends!) heard from a panel including Tom Temin (moderating), Vivek Kundra, Richard Spires (DHS CIO), and Roger Baker (VA CIO). Vivek talked about some of the same issues I noted in my post yesterday, and Richard and Roger brought those to life with agency examples. I won’t rehash but will point out a couple items of note.
At one point Richard said that within DHS they are looking from a portfolio perspective across agencies and are finding duplicative systems. He gave the example of COPS (not like Army COPS, this is common operating) and noted they have 16 of these systems across DHS but likely need 1 which can be customized to meet unique, disparate agency needs. Certainly I applaud efforts such as this to rationalize a Department’s application portfolio (some of you may remember the great work we did for NavFac rationalizing their portfolio of apps, moving from thousands to about a hundred and earning NavFac an egov award in the process). The difficulty in this environment is that eliminating especially GOTS typically requires investment to either bring the capabilities of the chosen core app up to meet the broader demands of the larger user base or to build/customize a new app that meets requirements across the user base. And, it requires investment to “rationalize” the business processes, typically disparate, across the agencies, which must happen before the development investment. No matter what, it takes investment to produce subsequent savings. Yet in this environment, finding those investment dollars is difficult. Of course, the good news for InterImage is that, when investment dollars are found, our core capability is working with users across organizations to create common processes and deploying new solutions that automate those processes, enabling retirement of legacy systems. Our tremendous success in performing this challenging work will bring us new opportunities as agencies gain appreciation for the value of BPM.
Both Roger and Richard talked about both incremental and iterative development. Both of these approaches, which are distinctly different, present challenges when RFP’s state that the agency SDLC must be followed. Virtually without exception, these include a set of deliverables that are tied to a waterfall approach. Shoehorning incremental (particularly our iterations within increments approach) into a waterfall framework becomes a frustrating exercise that doesn’t benefit anyone. While there is recognition, desire within gov to take advantage of rapid app dev approaches, and to see tangible progress at frequent intervals, barriers still need to be knocked down to clear the path for true rapid approaches, not just gamed approaches. I also believe that more education on rapid approaches - incremental, iterative/spiral/agile – is needed. Some folks I have talked to don’t really understand the distinctions and lump them all together. Greater understanding will help in the effort to knock down those barriers.