IT asset management helping VA, USCIS tackle technical debt

The agencies are communicating their technical debt to vendors in an effort to upgrade outdated software.

Agencies with mounting technical debt have utilized IT asset management to catch up on modernization efforts. IT asset management teams at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are improving their lines of communication in an effort to update their software. They’ve coordinated efforts to tally their technical debt, create budget balance sheets and outline their modernization needs to vendors.

“You’re not starting from a position of parity necessarily with the business. You’re not starting from zero,” Jim Gfrerer, former chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said during an ACT-IAC event on IT asset management. “You’re really making the case to the business not only ‘here’s my deficit of spending in a current year of execution,’ but also ‘here’s the accumulated technical debt.’”

The department is currently juggling $2.5 billion in projects to upgrade its financial management business systems. And though Gfrerer no longer works for VA, he said his team at the agency created an infrastructure readiness program to provision all of the components — including software, hardware, bandwidth and storage — within IT asset management.

“The problem is, those were the O&M accounts and the investments that were previously raided in VA,” Gfrerer said. “So it was a good move — to fence those dollars off — in order to make sure that you had the right infrastructure.”

VA’s IT asset management team has also shared its technical debt status with industry partners to show them where more attention might be needed.

“The next step is to work with our business partners and express that in terms of a limitation, or a lack of outcome or a drag, if you will, on business performance,” Gfrerer said. “If you had an outage, or if you had some challenge, I want you to tell the chief operating officer, because I’ll be right there to demonstrate and correlate that performance issue with likely an issue of underinvestment in a particular asset category.”

And with extra funding, VA is now postured to reduce its technical debt in fiscal 2022. Acting CIO Dominic Cussatt said during a House committee hearing in July that VA’s $4.8 billion budget request for IT should be enough to catch up on modernization efforts.

USCIS, on the other hand, is tackling technical debt through coordination within the agency — something it’s lacked without its legacy enterprise architecture, Bayne Brown, chief of strategic vendor management, said at the ACT-IAC event.

Under the legacy system, teams that handled software, understood contracts and patched products effectively communicated, Brown said. But that linkage has since disappeared.

“I hopes those lines of communication just completely open up, so that I can start to make, from a software asset management standpoint, procurement decisions that are in line with an optimized target state,” said Brown.

Despite USCIS’ technical debt — what Brown called a “pain point” — the agency has still managed to keep a steady IT portfolio. Over the last seven years, Brown said, his team’s portfolio has stayed in the $90 million to $100 million range.

“We’ve added plenty of software products, and there’s been plenty of increases with the actual cost of software that we’re buying, but yet we’re still at $90 million to $100 million worth of software,” Brown said. “And that’s largely because of the optimization we’ve been able to do in making better decisions using FMS.”

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