I just finished listening to the recent press conference of Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on his planned restructuring and rationalization of the Department of Defense. I was struck by his description of the IT function within the Department as inefficient and the duplication of basic IT capabilities across the organization. It sounded as if every command at all levels had their own independent IT functions.
This in and of itself is not surprising in a large bureaucracy, but it does cause one to wonder who is running the show. There is an overall Department CIO and most likely many Command level CIO’s. I’m sure they all want to protect their turf but there is a more important public service responsibility to run IT in as cost effective a manor as possible using the technologies available today.
Addressing this problem requires that senior management at all levels understand two basic principles of managing IT. First, the value of IT is delivered through applications and the design, development or purchase of these applications needs to be close to and under the control of the end users. Second, the technology tools supporting these applications (data centers, servers, networks, desktops, mobile devices and most support functions) need to be managed at the enterprise level of the organization. The reason is simply that there are enormous economies of scale in acquiring and managing these resources.
One additional reality is that end user demands drive the need for IT resources and this demand needs to be controlled in two ways. First, the enterprise needs to make sure the capability being requested doesn’t already exist within the organization to avoid duplication. Second, truly new capabilities need to be justified by a strong business case.
So what does DOD need to do to get it’s hands around the issues it faces? Here are some ideas:
1. Consolidate data centers into an overall DOD network. EDS and all the major outsourcers have known for years that there is an optimal size for a data center, and all suboptimal centers should be closed and their functions transferred to the enterprise’s data centers. I’d did exactly this years ago at McGraw Hill and we generate substantial savings, though I admit it was a difficult political job. I also supported doing this in Oregon’s state government, proving the politics can be overcome if the rational is strong enough.
2. Consolidate networks which are a major IT expense and in most cases duplicative and overlapping.
3. Virtualize servers where ever possible. We all know that servers dedicated to a single application are typically underutilized and that the technology now exists for servers to support multiple applications.
4. Centralize the purchase of desktops and mobile devices to gain the purchasing economies of scale.
5. Centralize all support functions into centers of excellence.
I would not be surprised if DOD could cut it’s IT cost by as much as 50% without negatively impacting service. This was exactly my experience at McGraw Hill when I was asked to rationalize the IT organization in the early 1980’s.
The principles for effectively managing IT in large organizations is not a mystery and they have been proven over and over again. Unfortunately, there have been classic failures in applying these principles, the Texas and Virginia debacles come to mind. It’s essential that leadership at all levels clearly understand they are wasting valuable resources that as Secretary Gates said can and should be redeployed to meet the organization’s primary mission, goals and objectives. Selling these principles to the organization’s leadership and then executing these principles is the primary mission of the Department’s CIO.
I would appreciate your thoughts on this blog through your comments or you can contact me direct at any of venues below.
William A. Crowell
LinkedIn: Bill Crowell