How much, exactly, is the federal government spending on technology? In truth, no one knows for sure.
That’s due in large part to inter-agency IT spending discrepancies and a lack of standards surrounding them. The Office of Management and Budget is trying to change that, with the advent of the Technology Business Management framework — a set of guidelines to categorize funds so organizations can make better sense of IT data. But since entering discourse in 2016, the TBM procedures have been met with both confusion and optimism.
The initiative was discussed at length during a panel at the 2018 CFO/CIO Summit co-hosted by the Association of Government Accountants and the Association for Federal Information Resources Management. The panel featured a handful of experts, some of whom are using TBM at their agencies. But for the majority of those in the audience, TBM was a foreign concept. But the top question to the panel helped lay the groundwork for a more educational discussion around TBM. Attendees wanted to know what TBM is and what it’s supposed to do.
Kelly Morrison, Performance Analyst at OMB, explained that TBM was designed to grow as a collaborative effort, rather than a required one. If it were implemented with a strict timeline at this time, the chance of further divide between agencies would increase, Morrison said.
“Anything that we can do to think about the enabling mechanisms, and how we can build TBM into the way that we do business, to make it simpler and easier and crack the nut for all agencies, rather than agencies having to figure it out themselves one-by-one in potentially different ways,” Morrison. “We believe that the result will be a stronger, more cohesive value at the end, where we truly are able to compare agencies’ data apples-to-apples, rather than there being nuances and differences within that data.”
As with many new government standards, TBM can seem like a murky subject. To help explain it, Morrison shared these best practices.
1. Don’t start with a tool.
Instead, agencies should start by figuring out who the stakeholders are in the organization, where the data is, how that data can be obtained and what it’s going to take to obtain that data on a consistent basis. They should understand what it will take to grow the importance of the data over time. TBM is a framework, and should be thought of as such.
2. TBM is a team sport.
In order for these standards to be successful, agencies need a suite of CXOs at the table. The CIO and CFO partnership is crucial, but Morrison explained the importance of bringing in other executives, like CAOs and budget directors. Ultimately, TBM’s success hinges on coordination between all functional lines.
As an example, Morrison nodded the state of Washington, which is the largest public sector organization that has implemented TBM. After visiting with many of the executives there, Morrison learned that the standards were helping in both reporting accurate data and assisting customers to make informed management decisions.
“‘Without TBM, we don’t have the data to ensure that we are making those effective management decisions,'” Morrison recalled a Washington CFO telling her.