Recent efforts to dig into spending at NASA have spearheaded IT transformation -- specifically, a revamp of the agency's IT sourcing strategy spanning 100 contracts and 10 NASA locations. And front and center in those efforts is an IT governance strategy that includes individuals at every level of the organization.
NASA spends $17.1 billion annually on IT, and to better govern sourcing efforts around what it calls its five IT towers -- desktop services, enterprise applications, Web services, network services and data center services -- NASA has since grouped and consolidated the number of providers within these silos. Vendors now provide services for more than one site -- previously, each site procured its own providers for certain services.
NASA's IT contracts were being executed out of 10 field centers across the country, in such locations as Johnson Space Center in Houston, Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida, and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
"Each of these sites has operated very autonomously," said Jonathan Pettus, director of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center's Office of the CIO. "It led to an environment in which IT infrastructure was somewhat fractured, [which] has made it very difficult for engineers and scientists to collaborate across our business centers." It also meant duplicate services and inefficient IT spending.
We're being smarter and much more integrated about how we select various services and how we bundle those services into our five [IT] towers.
Jonathan Pettus, director of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center's Office of the CIO, NASA
Multi-sourcing is a common approach for large organizations like NASA, which runs 8,000 websites (2,000 of them public-facing) and has 3,700 full-time IT employees, including 3,000 contractors. It can help enterprises diversify risk, ensure competition among various providers, cut costs related to repetitive service contracts and improve quality, collaboration and innovation among a stable of IT providers, said John McCarthy, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.
"The notion that [running IT] is somehow easier in a single-vendor environment … depends on how you measure outcomes," McCarthy said. "If you're managing a single vendor relationship, the governance burden is on you, but in a multi-sourcing environment, you can play them off each other."
Still, multi-sourcing requires internal governance as well. McCarthy likened an effective sourcing governance structure to a pyramid, whereby the top level should consist of a steering committee made up of a chief operating officer, the CIO and other business leaders; the middle level monitors overall program management and is composed of the directors of vendor management, the vice president of functional IT areas like applications or storage, and the head of the project management office; and the final level comprises IT operations staff and business managers who work with the applications frequently.
IT multi-sourcing governance strategy at NASA
For its IT sourcing governance strategy, NASA set up a four-tiered approach to assessing IT sourcing activities and selecting vendors. The process encompasses everybody up to NASA's highest executives.
The four governance tiers resemble the pyramid Forrester describes. At the top is a senior management council, chaired by NASA's CEO, to oversee IT sourcing activities on a strategic level. "That's where we got the top-down buy-in and support," Pettus said. "IT had always been pushed down the stack … that changed."
Implementation of sourcing initiatives became the responsibility of an IT strategy and investment board made up of senior business leaders. The group meets quarterly and makes decisions on prioritizing and selecting IT investments and setting IT policies and processes with regard to enterprise architecture and NASA-wide IT policies.
An IT program management board makes decisions regarding application and infrastructure projects to ensure that approved investments stay on track during design and implementation.
Finally, an IT management board, which meets weekly, is responsible for overseeing the supply side of IT service delivery, technical standards and operational issues, ensuring that IT sourcing activities are proceeding smoothly at the ground level.
Moreover, NASA is committed to using the version 3 of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) for incident, problem and change management processes. While "ITIL is not a silver bullet," the organization is working on aligning its current service providers with ITIL frameworks and putting it into requests for proposals from future vendors, seeking specific feedback on how they would plug their services into NASA's system, Pettus said.
"The most important part was getting an end-to-end, seamless environment," Pettus said. "We're being smarter and much more integrated about how we select various services and how we bundle those services into our five towers."
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