Chris Steel, InformationWeek, December 24, 2014

Over the decades, agencies' application environments have evolved into daunting sets of complex and often interrelated combinations of commercial-off-the-shelf software and homegrown applications, along with terabytes of data. While these complex, siloed environments may initially inspire a "rip-and-replace" mentality, below are five simple tips that can guide government IT leaders on a path to cost-efficient and incremental IT modernization wins.

1. Know what you have in place by establishing an IT and enterprise architecture (EA) governance model.

Modernization considerations should begin with an understanding of what's currently in place within your IT environment. As agencies continue to consolidate, document, and clean up their data centers, proper governance can ensure that IT continues to meet the needs of stakeholders well into the future. Establishing a governance framework can ensure all IT changes are coordinated and communicated, requests for duplicate services are eliminated, licensing requirements are met, and solid architecture principles are followed. It is important to evolve enterprise architecture guidelines with change in mind. Proper EA tools will help with further auditability and historical record-keeping to understand who changed what, when, and why.

2. Prove technology fast and efficiently.

Proving out a new technology that the agency is considering should not take long. A vendor that suggests more than six weeks for its technology to demonstrate value within the agency's environment should raise a red flag and questions. A prove-out period should to be as efficient as possible, so planning ahead is a must, as well as ensuring that you know what metrics the "prove-out" will be tracked against. As an organization gains experience in the process of managing vendor proving phases, taking on bigger projects becomes easier.

3. Start small.

A greater number of government executives have grown weary of making significant IT investments before the target solution is proven out in their own environment with their own data. Agencies should not need to spend millions of dollars to get started. Most new technologies are great at scaling, so starting small makes more sense, not only to make sure things work in the agency's environment, but to set a strong foundation to scale up from there. By starting with one small project, organizations can tackle larger and more projects as lessons are learned.

4. Leverage subject-matter expertise from vendors.

There are many great integrators and resellers in the community, and they have important roles in the ecosystem. But vendors can also bring subject-matter experts who have been on the front lines of implementations that have and haven't been successful. These lessons learned are valuable intelligence that can help your agency adopt best practices. The key is to build a good level of trust with your vendor partners and demand integrity. Let it be known that everyone must stay committed to the success they agreed to at the start of any project.

5. Remember security.

Understanding the security requirements for every component in the agency's infrastructure is no longer just wishful thinking -- it's critical. Components with high security requirements should not be combined with low-security components. Ideally, agencies shouldn't stop at tracking network requirements; they should include storage encryption requirements, facility-location and ITAR considerations, and auditability. Utilizing solid EA tools to plan the lifecycle of components, ensuring all elements are within current support from OEMs, will ensure a safe foundation for modernization initiatives. Weak links within an environment can have a ripple effect on cyber security. With budget constraints and continuous change being the new norm for government IT leaders, many are taking action by embracing new and more productive ways of helping their agencies achieve their respective missions. By following these five steps, government organizations are sure to be on the path to fostering long-term value and growth.

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