When a former senior IRS executive says the federal government’s most pressing priority is managing risk, agencies and contractors alike would do well to listen.
From 2008 to 2016, Terry Milholland was the CTO and CIO of the Internal Revenue Service, overseeing the 7,000-person IT organization and more than 500 systems handling 200 million tax returns every year. There’s no doubt that this role comes with some daunting responsibilities because of the agency’s mission as well as its size and scale, but it also gives Milholland unique experiences and perspectives to share with other agency leaders.
From Millholland’s perspective the biggest challenge facing agencies in terms of mission readiness is “data blindness.” In a recent article in Federal Computer Week, Milholland warns that agencies need to focus on gaining better visibility into their IT portfolios and how IT investments enable and ensure alignment to agency mission, processes and external stakeholders and avoid at all costs the blindness that comes with having only a high-level view into an agency’s IT landscape and information-gathering. Being unable to ‘drill down’ into IT asset data increases systemic risk for agencies and prevents them from understanding how changes in one area can ripple across systems.
To gain IT portfolio visibility, Milholland argues that government IT leaders should be investing in strategic IT portfolio management platforms that provide, among other things:
– Real-time transparency into business-IT relationships;
– Visibility of specific technology deployments across programs and applications to determine an agency’s exposure to evolving security risks;
– Insights into the relationships between IT objects and business stakeholders;
– Clear strategic plans and roadmaps that demonstrate how the platforms align to agencies’ missions and business needs.
Milholland suggests agencies should look for best-in-class enterprise architecture and strategic IT Portfolio management platforms based on their flexibility and ability to align IT assets and plans with an agency’s mission. A best-in-class solution for instance, can identify the cascading effects of changing a portfolio object on objects in other portfolios, and links business capabilities to supporting applications, technologies and projects to keep changes from adversely affecting business operations.
The first task agencies must take on after choosing their platform is listing every IT investment, classified into sustainment, upgrades, and new development. The list then has to be ranked by outcome value. This provides an objective order against which agency leadership can allocate funding, manpower and other resources, starting with the greatest return on that investment and working down the list. This approach ensures “these investments are continually optimized and aligned to support mission programs and geared [to] improving citizen service,” Milholland writes.
Using a strategic IT portfolio management platform provides common ground to build consensus among agency leadership, not just in the IT ranks, and fosters collaboration, he says.
The concept of “risk” applies in many dimensions – from business and operational risk to financial risk, security to compliance, and even reputational risk. No agency wants to be a front-page story for lapses in any of these areas.
“While I know risk can never be 100 percent mitigated,” Milholland concludes, “I hope my [message] will help IT leaders stay ahead of their daily and long-term challenges.”
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