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Strong CFO Relationship Key to Modernizing IT Systems on a Budget

The Department of Energy and the Social Security Administration look for strategic ways to modernize technical frameworks while operating on limited resources.

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Strong CFO Relationship Key to Modernizing IT Systems on a Budget
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Staying ahead of the technology curve can be challenging for many agencies, especially when they’re operating on limited resources. However, there are some steps organizations can take to modernize their IT systems without going over budget.

The Department of Energy and the Social Security Administration believe it’s important to have a strategy when trying to upgrade back-end processes and simplify your workflows. Maintaining a good relationship with the chief financial officer is also vital to helping agencies achieve their IT modernization goals.

LeAnn Oliver, director of the Office of Corporate Business Systems with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer at Energy, said you have to be creative when looking at what you want to pursue for resources. Not only do you have to find areas within your agency where you can share the costs, but also you have to look at the situation strategically. It’s important to have a good vision of where you’re going with your overall systems.

“I get back to the strategy, though, because you’re going to have to make tradeoffs no matter what you’re doing. And so, if you have a really clear idea of where you’re going, the funds that you do have, you can put in the biggest bang for your buck area. But I think in order to do that, you’ve got to really figure out what your tradeoffs are,” Oliver said during ATARC’s 2023 Federal IT Modernization Summit.  Patrick Newbold, assistant deputy commissioner and deputy CIO at SSA, also believes it’s critical to have a good working relationship with your CFO.

“At our agency, the CFO which is charged with managing will have over half our active commissioning my budget and CIO statute, a law that has the responsibility to manage the resources, It takes those two together and be part of the C suite to ensure that we are again aligning those resources, that limited resources that we have to what matters the most,” Newbold said.

You should be able to communicate what you need by putting it in terms that they will understand, Oliver added.

“It needs to make sense from a technical perspective. It needs to make sense in terms of how it fits in with the rest of the department. It just it just needs to be well thought out and supportable to people who may or may not have technical backgrounds,” Oliver said. “If your CFO you know isn’t a techie, you’re going to help yourself a lot by making sure that you’re talking to them in the appropriate terms.”

While money is essential to modernizing IT systems, knowing when to modernize is equally as important. Newbold said he looks at several types of risks including human risk as a deciding factor on when it’s time to upgrade systems.

“This is really a big one at SSA, we have some COBOL, we have mainframe. And those skill sets are retiring, quite frankly.”  Newbold said. “We have to look at the new and as if that’s going be a factor, we have to plan for that. We have to address that. And a lot of times that means we need to look at modernizing the system.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misattributed a quote to SSA Deputy CIO Patrick Newbold. The error has been corrected.

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