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Best Practices and Leading Practices in Information Technology Management

GAO has identified a set of essential and complementary management disciplines that provide a sound foundation for information technology (IT) management. These include: IT strategic planning, Enterprise architecture, IT investment management and Information Security.

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IT strategic planning

Advances in technology are changing the way agencies do business. Two laws, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 and the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, establish a framework to help agencies more effectively manage IT through strategic planning.

An agency should:

  • Document its IT strategic planning process, including, at a minimum, (1) the responsibilities and accountability for IT resources across the agency; and (2) the method by which the agency defines program information needs and develops strategies, systems, and capabilities to meet those needs.
  • Document its process to integrate IT management operations and decisions with organizational planning, budget, financial management, human resources management, and program decisions.
  • Require that information security management processes be integrated with strategic and operational planning processes.
  • Institute a process to account for all IT-related expenses and results.
  • Prepare an enterprisewide strategic information resources management plan. At a minimum, an information resources management plan should (1) describe how IT activities will be used to help accomplish agency missions and operations, including related resources; and (2) identify a major IT acquisition program(s) or any phase or increment of that program that has significantly deviated from cost, performance, or schedule goals established for the program.
  • Ensure its performance plan required under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), as amended by the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (1) describes how IT supports strategic and program goals; (2) identifies the resources and time periods required to implement the information security program plan required by FISMA; and (3) describes major IT acquisitions contained in the capital asset plan that will bear significantly on the achievement of a performance goal.
  • Have a documented process to (1) develop IT goals in support of agency needs; (2) measure progress against these goals; and (3) assign roles and responsibilities for achieving these goals.
  • Establish goals that, at a minimum, address how IT contributes to (1) program productivity, (2) efficiency, (3) effectiveness, and (4) service delivery to the public (if applicable).
  • Establish IT performance measures to monitor actual-versus-expected performance. Measures should align with the GPRA performance plan.
  • In an annual report, to be included in the budget submission, describe progress in using IT to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations and, as appropriate, deliver services to the public.
  • Benchmark IT management processes against appropriate public and private sector organizations and/or processes in terms of costs, speed, productivity, and quality of outputs and outcomes.

IT investment management

IT projects can significantly improve an organization'€™s performance, but they can also become costly, risky, and unproductive. Agencies can maximize the value of IT investments and minimize the risks of IT acquisitions when they have an effective and efficient IT investment management process, as described in GAO's guide to effective IT investment management, (GAO-04-394G).

Agencies should:

  • Stage 1: Create awareness
  • Raise awareness about the importance of a disciplined investment management processes.
  • Stage 2: Build the foundation
  • Create an investment review board, and define its membership, guiding policies, operations, roles, responsibilities, and authorities.
  • For each project, develop a business case that identifies the key executive sponsor, business customers (or end users), and the business needs that the IT project will support.
  • Introduce a defined process that the organization can use to select new IT proposals and reselect ongoing projects.
  • Monitor projects against cost and schedule expectations as well as anticipated benefits and risks.
  • Stage 3: Develop a complete investment portfolio
  • Define criteria for determining which investments to include in the investment portfolio. Criteria could include quantitative or qualitative factors such as cost, benefit, schedule, and risk.
  • Use the criteria to select investments for the portfolio.
  • Evaluate the portfolio by adding the element of portfolio performance to the organization's control process activities.
  • Review IT projects by comparing actual results to estimates in order to learn from past investments and initiatives.
  • Stage 4: Improve the process
  • Evaluate the performance of the portfolio to improve both current IT investment management processes and the future performance of the IT portfolio.
  • Analyze and manage the replacement of IT investments and assets with their higher-value successors.
  • Stage 5: Leverage IT for strategic outcomes
  • Optimize the investment management process exploit IT decision making to improve the value of an IT investment management process.
  • Learn about and implement other organizations' best practices for IT investment.
  • Use IT to renovate and transform work processes and to push the organization to explore new and better ways to execute its mission.
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  • portrait of Valerie C. Melvin
    • Valerie C. Melvin
    • Director, Information Technology
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