Waging war on the bottom line

Faced with new economic realities, the Department of Defense must rethink how it budgets for IT

Delivering IT capabilities is one thing. Justifying your expenditures is something else — particularly in the government sector. In the ongoing effort to modernize and consolidate U.S. Transportation Command’s IT infrastructure, demonstrating ROI is a key issue.

“We don’t measure effectiveness the way that corporate America does. Corporate America does that by their quarterly reports to their stockholders, by their bottom line at the end of the day,” explains Brig. Gen. Michael Basla, director of command, control, communications, and computer systems for USTransCom. “We wrestle with this, quite frankly.”

Whereas a commercial enterprise is expected to show a profit, the most that a government agency such as USTransCom can hope to do is to demonstrate reduced expenditures. And even that isn’t easy, as a glance at current headlines will demonstrate.

The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere have put tremendous stress on the armed services. Thus far, operations have been sustained in large part through supplemental funding that Congress has approved in the past few years, but top military brass have no illusions. The day those supplemental funds dry up is not too far in the future, Basla says.

But concern for the bottom line is nothing new for the armed forces. As have other enterprises, the agencies under the Department of Defense have been forced to reassess and reinvent how they conduct IT operations in the face of ever-changing economic conditions and markets. And, as with most large companies today, the effort to create efficiencies begins with sourcing.

“We do very little in-house development now,” Basla says. “It used to be that the DoD was on the leading edge and drove technology changes. Now we are in flight formation with the civilian sector, and we are employing and buying the products that are developed in industry.”

Commercial, off-the-shelf solutions make sense for USTransCom on a number of levels. Not only do they reduce up-front expenditures, including payroll expenditures necessary for in-house development and testing, but they also make it easier to obtain ongoing maintenance and support.

Basla and his team look for established, proven IT solutions that provide the capabilities they require, and that qualification process looks beyond feature lists and technical specifications. Equally important, a solution must fit with what has become the mantra of IT budgeting at USTransCom: Do more with less.

“People get enamored with technology and forget the purpose of it,” Basla says. “I’m going to look for a million ways to solve the problem before I buy another box.”