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Smart Government: IT as a Force Multiplier

FedCentral WTOP Federal news radio show


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Government leaders can allow the budget crunch to be a crisis, or an opportunity to be more cost effective and re-think how business is done. Learn how IT transformation has the potential to be a catalyst for ‘smart government’ and can serve as a force multiplier for future mission success.

Audio file:

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Show highlights:

  • Using the budget crisis as an opportunity for IT transformation and cost savings
  • Long term strategic planning—moving IT from the back office to the frontlines
  • CIO and CFO collaboration
  • Full alignment of IT function into agency mission

Guests:

  • Van Hitch, Senior Advisor, Deloitte Consulting LLP; Former CIO of the Department of Justice
  • Clarence Crawford, Director, Deloitte Consulting LLP; Former CFO of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Transcript:

Jane Norris
Welcome to Fed Central, brought to you by Deloitte, a program where executives and federal government leaders talk about the issues and initiatives that are making a real impact on the business of government today to help government help America.

In today's state of austerity and on today's show, we'll be talking about the ways that agencies can adjust. IT transformation has the potential to be a catalyst for agency transformation. Government leaders can allow the budget crunch to be a crisis or an opportunity – an opportunity to begin to think differently about how they do business. To be smarter and more cost effective and technology can be part of the solution.

Joining us today to discuss smart government and how IT can serve as a force multiplier in an environment of physical constraints, is Van Hitch. Van, is a strategic advisor for Deloitte's federal practice, where he helps federal CIOs identify long term transformation opportunities, to leverage technology, to fundamentally change the way they do business. Prior to joining Deloitte, Van held the honor of being the longest serving federal CIO in his role as Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Chief Information Officer of the Department of Justice. Hi, Van.

And also, Clarence Crawford. He's a Director in Deloitte Consulting's Federal Practice, with nearly 40 years of experience working in the federal government. Prior to joining Deloitte, Clarence served as CFO for the Office of Personnel Management, as well as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He also worked as the Associate Director for Administration in the Office of Management and Budget. Gentleman, a pleasure to talk with you both, in the same room.

Van Hitch
Great to be here.

Clarence Crawford
Yes.

Jane Norris
I should say Clarence is the former host of this show, so I feel a little transplanted here. All right. So let's talk about this idea that CIOs and CFOs should really be working together to help transform their agencies. Van, talk about that from an IT perspective first.

Van Hitch
Well, IT traditionally was viewed as a back office operation, something that helped crunch the numbers for the CFOs and created big reports and things like that. But that view is really decades old. Today, IT is a lot more. IT is at the core of agencies fulfilling their mission and enabling them to do a better job for our citizens. And in order to really make that a reality, CIOs and CFOs have to collaborate. They've got to really get together around this idea of IT as an asset, IT as a business function and an enabler for their mission in order to get the programs going that are necessary to make IT effective.

Jane Norris
Clarence, are CFOs talking to their CIO counterparts?

Clarence Crawford
I think it does happen—probably not as much as it should. I think that the CFO and the CIO have a unique perspective. An enterprise-wide perspective on what's going on within the agency. So I think understanding the agency mission and then working hand in hand with the program managers – the people who run the mission side of the agency – to begin to think about how they can do things differently. Like the CIO, finance was always considered a back room operation, not very important. Clearly, not important to the mission of the organization, but I think as we go forward and the progress that's been made over the years, IT and finance can be key partners in helping agencies navigate the very challenging times ahead.

Jane Norris
Is it working? I mean, is this happening – this kind of collaboration?

Van Hitch
I think it's happening to some extent but not nearly to the degree that I would like to see it happen. And I think it's necessary. It's not just CIOs and CFOs. It's really the executives of the whole agency. The operational people, the secretary level people, the [Dep. Sec.] people. They need to be in partnership, in terms of what's important to the agency and how  they are going to accomplish those things over the next five years. IT can play a major role in that, if they're in on the discussion and at the table when those things are discussed. So those are the kind of discussions that have to happen and unfortunately, it's not something that can just kind of happen at the drop of a hat. You don't wait that the budget is due and then say, "Okay. Now let's start talking." Let's start talking about what we're going to do with IT. It really has to be part of the process of strategic planning and the whole organization with all those key people at the table, including the CIO and the CFO, and then IT needs to be an integral part of that. How do we enable making these missions changes happen?

Clarence Crawford
I agree with Van. Van, I think that what I have seen in my own experience, when it has worked well, we've actually gone out and spent time with the operations people. We attend their staff meetings. We learn their business. We speak their language. So that they can begin to trust us, and we also begin to better understand what their needs are. And then, with that trust, you begin to build. It doesn't happen overnight and you surely can't do it the day before crisis. So you've got to start building this now and getting some capital in the bank. Once you've done that, then you're in a position to begin to really think about how you can help the organization think through how it wants to emerge from this round of budget cuts, which will take several years. Where do they want the agency to come out? What kind of business do they want it to be in? How will it function? What will it do with its people? How will it interact with tax payers? These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked now and they will help, then, guide the longer term and the short term decisions that must be made.

Jane Norris
So here we are in – I would say a budget crisis, maybe? Too strong of a word? All right. So let's just say budget crisis. Can IT be the kind of cost – be the kind of consolidation effort or cost reduction effort that agencies need and can turn to? And can CFOs really identify what these costs/savings might be through IT –how does that kind of collaboration work?

Van Hitch
Well as we've kind of said here in our dialogue, it doesn't happen overnight. So unless you've laid some groundwork, it's very difficult to make that happen at the last minute. What happens at the last minute is you start cutting 10% here, 10% there. Ten percent across the board and you can do that every once in awhile. You can do that periodically but after awhile, you're just doing a lot of the same things, a lot worse. And you're not getting them done in an effective manner. What you really need to do is just take a blank sheet and say, "What is it we need to do in order to accomplish the overall mission of this department? And how does IT support that? That is a much longer term discussion than right at budget time.

At budget time, if you don't have a context – if you don't have that framework to hang the decisions you're making on, it gets to be a number crunching thing and you just start rounding around the edges.

Clarence Crawford
That's exactly right. I think that, as you talk to the CFOs, you talk to agencies. They're generally identifying three types of costs that are – that they're grabbling with. One, there's a concern that they may have more people on board than they can afford, looking at the budget to the future. They may have more real estate than they actually need in this new environment. And they're spending money on technology and sometimes, to people that are outside of technology, it's hard for them to understand sort of what the true value is. What are we actually buying? And I think, as we look at those three, the real cost savings for the agency really comes from on the mission side. Helping the mission side understand how they can do business differently. In some cases, it might be closing offices and moving more – the client or taxpayer into action, through the internet. And maybe not needing as many physical offices anymore. Maybe you can do more and IT could be a critical player to that. But that's not a decision that you make today and implement tomorrow. That's something that takes some time to think through, as you know, Van.

Van Hitch
Right. That's right. And even if you look at IT, the cost items within the IT budget and infrastructure, there are savings that can be had by using more modern technology and by using Cloud computing. That's a big thrust within the federal government right now, as well as data center consolidation. Those two things could save the government as a whole and agencies specifically lots and lots of money. But they're, once again, you don't do those things at the drop of a hat. It takes a lot of planning and it takes a well thought out approach to how you're going to accomplish that and still accomplish the mission of the department. That said, there are savings to be had in those two areas.

Jane Norris
So that might be a multiple year budgetary outlook. And you often have changes in the department, changes in administration, changes in top executives. How do you get that plan implemented over a long period of time?

Clarence Crawford
Jane, I think that what we're really talking about is really being a lot smarter about what we do. And having had the opportunity to serve several different administrations, even during an administration change, I generally found that there's usually an audience, when you come in to talk about how you can improve service to taxpayers or how you can improve operations or reduce costs. Those are kinds of conversations that take place and are – I think, especially, in this environment – to be very welcomed conversations to have. And I think, again – CFOs, CIOs, are uniquely positioned to be great, honest brokers for leadership.

Jane Norris
Well that sounds very realistic. So tell me now what smart leaders can begin to do to make those long term IT transformation plans. What advice would you give them, basically, to start now. How would you advise them to move forward?

Van Hitch
Well actually, election years are often times thought of as very difficult times to get things done because of their reluctance to make decisions. It's a very good time to put in place the framework that will be necessary to make the hard decisions that are going to have to be made in the future and to lay out the alternatives. That is exactly what our political leaders would want, when a new administration comes in, regardless of the party. And when an election year comes, there's new people, regardless of any overall change in the administration. That is a great time to really put forth what the alternatives are and how we can move forward as an agency, both on our strategic plan and the strategic IT initiatives that we have to do to support that plan.

Jane Norris
All right. We're going to come back in just a moment and talk about what some of those enablers might be, in terms of IT. And how the Chief Financial Officer can support what the Chief Information Officer is trying to accomplish and vice versa. We'll be back in just a moment. Stay tuned. You're listening to Fed Central on federal news radio 1500 am. Our guest today – Van Hitch. He's the strategic advisor for Deloitte's federal practice and former CIO of the Department of Justice. And Clarence Crawford— Director in Deloitte Consulting's federal practice and also a former CFO for multiple government agencies. So stay tuned right here to Fed Central, on federal news radio 1500 am. I'm Jane Norris.

Welcome back. You're listening to Fed Central, brought to you by Deloitte. On today's show, we're talking about how IT transformation can help agencies realize costs savings and  how CIO’s and CFOs can work together to be a positive influence on how that actually comes together. We're talking today to Van Hitch, a Strategic Advisor for Deloitte's Federal Practice and former CIO at the Department of Justice. And Clarence Crawford, a Director in Deloitte Consulting's Federal Practice and former CFO at multiple government agencies.

So Clarence, I'll ask you. As government executives are looking to make both mandated cuts and cuts that they think will be beneficial to certain programs – because that's what they're being asked to do – what issue should they keep in mind, both near and long term? And are there certain areas that they're really looking at, to get those cost efficiencies?

Clarence Crawford
I think that what they really need to do is have a very clear understanding of what they really want to accomplish. And it's more than just cutting some costs. One particular agency started looking at their real estate. They looked at their budget and they said, "We've got to cut our real estate." But as they really got into it and really begin to understand the issues, they began to see the connection between people – where do we really need to have people, giving our mission has shifted and we now have new priority areas. And as they began to look at that, they thought, well how can technology help us? With a more mobile work force, they realized they didn't need quite as many places, office spaces. They could still communicate effectively with their employees. They thought about different ways to wire their offices. But it all started with a question about real estate, but then, they continued to ask the right questions and really got into questions of mission – where should we be? How many people do we need to have? What do we need to carry out our mission? And then that drove very clear decisions about how many people they should have, where should they be, what kind of technology they needed to support it and I watched a senior leadership team come together around these issues, walk out of the meeting with a clear understanding of what exactly they needed to do and everybody was on the same page. That was not how they entered the room.

Jane Norris
And so, IT then becomes part of that discussion.

Van Hitch
Absolutely. And IT must be a part of that discussion. Not a separate discussion about just IT. That's one of the key points that I'd like to make. When I first came to the Department of Justice, one of the big issues of the day was law enforcement was not sharing information appropriately to connect the dots to each other. Law enforcement, as a whole, knew a lot about specific incidents, but didn't share that information and therefore, couldn't solve crimes, couldn't stop terrorism, couldn't do a lot of things. Everybody had their own incident management system, but those – never the twain shall meet. They didn't share information. So getting crime doesn't stop at borders. It doesn't stop at the edge of the city, at the edge of the county, at the edge of a state. It's national. It's international. So the system – and that's one of the great capabilities of IT, is the ability to integrate and share information. So unless you kind of get in that discussion about accomplishing the mission, IT cannot fulfill the role that it really can play, enabling that mission and therefore, doing things not only effectively but cost effectively.

Jane Norris
I think it may not look that way, as you view it, as you look at your budget shrinking – but it may actually be an opportunity. To realign how you do business—or your business model.

Clarence Crawford
That's exactly it, Jane. One of the hardest things to do in an agency is to propose change when it has plenty of money and everybody's happy. If you really want to get shot, that's the way to do it, is to propose, "Let's change everything." But when things are in transition, when you're facing those kind of challenges,  you're doing what agencies are facing now. This is an opportunity to really step back and re-examine how they do business. Most of the time, the mission, in and of itself, will not change. But what is possible might be how they would actually conduct their business.

Van Hitch
That's right. That's right. And the stepping back part is very important and what is oftentimes missing, because we're always ready for the next budget cycle; we’re already ready for the next deadline. Unless you step back, you don't take the time to rethink. Let's have a clean sheet of paper. Let's figure out what it is we want to accomplish. Where do we want to be five years from now? And the things that we really need to do to get there from a mission standpoint, a people standpoint, a real estate standpoint and an IT standpoint, in terms of how it supports that. Then you can actually accomplish those things and perhaps, even save money. Especially when you get to the point where you have to make trade-offs. You're in a better position. You've already talked through what your priorities are. You know where you're going and you have a context in which to make difficult decisions.

Jane Norris
Are there examples of success, where you see this happening that you can point to?

Van Hitch
There are pieces of success that have happened. I was in government for nine and a half years. Right now is a critical time, in terms of budget. We've been squeezed for several years. But right now, it's the beginning of a major push to reduce the size of government. And I really think it takes rethinking. The rethinking that I'm talking about happens in a crisis. It happens in the private sector, when there's a merger or an acquisition that takes place. You have to rethink – how are we going to put these two major organizations together and capitalize on their assets? It happens in government, when you maybe get rid of an agency or create one, like the Department of Homeland Security. It happens at times of crisis. So I think now is the time for these kind of collaborations to happen and to put in place a plan, with a clean sheet of paper of what do we need to do to accomplish our mission? And then we'll deal with the budget part.

Clarence Crawford
Yes, I agree. I think that this is such a fundamental shift, that approaches this in more of a piecemeal fashion, I don't think is going to be an effective way to go about it. So we're talking about, in some ways, breaking new ground. We – as Van says, we've seen examples of bits and pieces across government. But I think what this new environment calls for is a more comprehensive approach, as the federal government moves forward.

Jane Norris
So working as business partners, more or less – parts of the same – having the same goal, with obviously, different areas of expertise.

Clarence Crawford
That's correct.

Jane Norris
Does government operate that way? Do they think that way?

Van
It's difficult. And it takes real leadership in order to get there. I mean, it takes real leadership and reaching across the table and working in partnership. I think the capability is there in government. The government has really fine, capable people who care about what they do. This is a crisis. People need to step up to the crisis. And I think they're capable of doing it.

Clarence Crawford
Leadership is key. And I agree with Van, the people in the federal government clearly can do it, but it's really going to require leadership. It's going to require leadership from the C-suite. It's going to require leadership from the agency heads, to be able to drive and to steer a course forward for the agency.

Jane Norris
All right. So we're in an election year. So how does that factor in? I mean, we talked about some of the change that agencies face just through normal attrition in leadership. But an election year poses its own, I think, challenges for agencies. So how does that factor in to all of this?

Clarence Crawford
The nice thing about our system is that we have successfully survived elections and election results since the beginning of the country. So the notion that there's an election, irrespective of whether there's a change in administration, there's probably going to be new political leadership in the agencies. Even if the current administration should win. The real challenge and the real core of this becomes, then – I think the real glue is the career senior executive. This is where the career senior executive has an opportunity to shine. He or she is in place and can help the transition and help quickly inform the new political leadership and help be a catalyst to support the new leadership in making the right decisions. But during transitions, during periods of tremendous turmoil, is when career executives are in the best position to really shine and to really earn their salaries.

Van Hitch
I totally agree. Now is the time. Now is the time for the career leadership of the organizations to make sure that they've got all the alternatives laid out. That they've thought through what would really be best for the agency to get – accomplish this mission long term and to understand the priorities and to offer alternatives when new political leadership comes in, what they want to know, what are the problems and what are my alternatives? And if they don't have those laid out, they're not going to come up with them overnight.

Jane Norris
So be developing business cases now.

Van Hitch
Absolutely, yes.

Jane Norris
And implementing the business case as appropriate, with the leadership.

Clarence Crawford
And be an honest broker. Be known as a good, honest broker of information – unbiased information. As a CFO or a CIO, you have an enterprise-wide perspective. It sometimes gives you a slightly different perspective or gives an agency a slightly different perspective than they would get from the mission side

Jane Norris
So what about the IT as an enabler idea, introducing that to the CFO?

Van Hitch
Absolutely. And introducing it to the new political leadership of the agency. I think that's the job of the CIO. The CIO must show leadership and demonstrate that and communicate the idea that IT can be an enabler and it should not be looked at as a separate stovepipe. It needs to be – CIOs need to be at the table and we need to develop joint plans, through which, IT can really be leveraged across the entire agency. So we're looking at savings. IT can be an enabler for savings elsewhere in the agency. It might mean less people long term. It might mean less real estate long term. So looking at IT budget as an isolated element in a budget is the wrong approach, really.

Jane Norris
Well this is fascinating. I wish we had another hour to talk about it, but thank you both for joining us on the show today. It's been interesting. If you'd like to learn more, you can always check it out at federalnewsradio.com.  There is a Deloitte Fed Central page there. You can always check out all the information and articles there. And as well as our new federal tech trends report, which might be of some interest, as well. So please join us again next time and we thank our guests, Van Hitch, Strategic Advisor for Deloitte's federal practice and former CIO, Department of Justice. And Clarence Crawford, Director at Deloitte Consulting's federal practice and multiple agency CFO. And thank you all for joining us today. This is Fed Central, on Federal News Radio 1500 AM. I'm Jane Norris.

The following is a full transcript of FedCentral’ s interview with Van Hitch, Strategic Advisor, Deloitte Consulting LLP and former Department of Justice CIO and Clarence Crawford, Director, Deloitte Consulting LLP and former agency CFO, conducted by Jane Norris on July 5, 2012. To listen to the full interview go to http://www.deloitte.com/us/fedcentral.

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