CBP OIT adjusts to tough times with shared services


CAMBRIDGE, Md.--Radical budget cuts amounting to about a 50 percent reduction over 4 years forced Customs and Border Protection to use shared and cloud services to a degree previously unthinkable, said CBP Chief Technology Officer Wolfe Tombe while speaking during a panel session of the annual ACT-IAC Management of Change conference.

Four years ago, the CBP Office of Information Technology had a budget of $1.2 billion annually; this year it's around $650 million and will likely drop by another 10 percent due to sequestration, he said.

As a result, methods of technology deployment such as multi-tenant cloud "that we would have considered off the table 4 years ago--we're looking at them as the only way we will survive. We can't possibly fund the current operating picture that we have."

One thing CBP did is outsource its email system, but before doing so, it found that it didn't know how much it spent on maintaining its internal email system. "The first thing we learned is we didn't know. And in fact, it was very, very hard for us to find out," and required help from consultants in the end, Tombe said.

It wasn't difficult to determine software licensing or hardware costs, but tracking down how much time personnel spent on servicing the email system or responding to help desk requests proved difficult.

"How are we going to figure out what percentage of their time were they actually spending on email?" was the problem before them, Tombe said.

During the same panel, Rick Holgate, chief information officer of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that a Justice Department migration to email-as-a-service also encountered difficulties in determining baseline costs.

Within smaller components, the main cost from email was personnel, "which doesn't look like a cost to a lot of organizations," Holgate said, especially one where personnel consumes 70 to 80 percent of the annual budget. "Some of these components were saying that their email cost was close to felt to them like it was zero," he added.

Asking organizations to change to new deployment models will spark resistance, Tombe said. "In fact, you have to count on it, have to plan for it. ... People resist change in amazingly strong levels."

Tombe said he likens the change process to the Kübler-Ross model of five stages of grief. "Lots of times they get explosively angry with me. ... I even get hate email. You can't take that personally. It's a stage they're going through."

Once program managers get to the bargaining stage, Tombe said the worst is over. "That's how I've always told my leadership--they're there, they're negotiating."

Related Articles:
Shared First gets a catalog and an implementation guide
Shared services requires pooling information and lessons learned, say panelists
CBP has scaled back its border technology ambitions