IT modernization reform gets its own modernization project

For years the government has talked about modernizing legacy systems, and now it seems it may become a reality thanks to a forward leaning idea from Tony Scott, the federal chief information officer, and his $50 car when he was in college.

The best ideas tend to come from personal experience. Most of us have had that car that was too expensive to repair, yet we couldn’t afford a new car. Stuck in limbo land — much like large-scale federal IT systems today.

Headshot of Ketih Trippie
Keith Trippie, CEO, The Trippie Group

I had the chance to listen to Tony speak recently at the Cloud Security Alliance Federal Summit event, and it seems this idea is still making its way through the process, but has support so far. Managing large scale IT systems in the government is not for the faint of heart. Trying to keep up with new requirements, aging IT infrastructure and flat budgets is like juggling angry honey badgers.

This modernization fund can put the federal IT ecosystem on the right path. And the timing couldn’t be better. Even 10 years ago, this model would have been a tough sell and probably wouldn’t have worked. Now, with all the advancements in technology, including all the IT bingo terms heard around government IT conference tables today, this fund has a real chance to succeed.

An important byproduct of this fund is its ability to springboard the promotion and adoption of shared services. There’s no reason why we need 30 different budget systems in IT. The key challenge to shared services has traditionally been with capitalization. This fund will eliminate that problem.

Here are a few thoughts on how to prioritize funding in this federal “Shark Tank,” aside from enhancing public services business objectives:

  • No funding can be spent on customization, only configuration.
  • The underlying computer technology should come from cloud service providers who are approved under the Federal Risk Authorization and Management Program (FedRAMP).
  • The service must be available via phone, tablet or computer monitor out of the box.
  • Projects will use their best version of DevOps and agile development.
  • Give extra points to projects that have the most legacy IT systems that will be shuttered once the new capability is operational. Literally pull the plug out of server racks and stop paying that bill. What are the projected savings?
  • Consider adding a market research/decision support capability for federal employees as a shopping service to easily identify these new services and how to subscribe to them.

The last suggestion is one based on 10 years in the federal government. While there are more than 300 major IT programs in the government totaling an IT budget north of $80 billion, trying to find out what services are available for use is difficult. So even if federal employees want to simply reuse a contract or IT service already in use today in the government, good luck.

Let’s give the feds an easy button. The government could benefit from commercial online shopping services used today in travel, insurance and dating. Yes, I said dating.

Today, the only travel agents anyone can find are on that fabulous TV show, The Americans. And even they aren’t really travel agents.

There is a reason for that; the model works. Shopping e-commerce platforms are far more efficient than humans and yield near instantaneous comparisons and recommendations for the consumer.

But let’s be bold and skip a tech generation, to match the bold investment fund idea. Don’t just provide a website that aggregates all the new services and has the reader do the math. Create the IT matching site for the federal government.

The site should provide easy-to-answer questions that focus on business questions for business people and technical questions for those more technically inclined. Then, using a matching algorithm, present comparisons and recommendations to the users based on their unique needs. Throw in a few jazzy visualizations and voila, the first shopping site that will transform the market research process in the federal government and increase adoption of shared services.

As helpful as this would be for federal employees, just think of the information about IT requirements across the federal government that this shopping service would generate. The Office of Management and Budget and General Services Administration would benefit greatly from this information, shaping future strategic sourcing requirements. Arrivederci data calls.

There are quite a few car shopping sites today that would help a college kid, and future federal CIO with a $50 car, find a better way to get around the Beltway.

Keith Trippie is the CEO of The Trippie Group LLC, Co-founder of, and a public sector board member of Acquia.