Modular system development mitigates risk, says Werfel

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Federal agencies should embrace modular development because it lessens the dangers of information technology project failure, said  Daniel Werfel, federal controller for the Office of Management and Budget.

Under modular development, discrete project deliverables get pushed out more often, meaning that reviews and evaluations happen sooner, allowing for the possibility for quick corrective actions that can mitigate financial exposure, Werfel said while speaking Wednesday at an AGA event in Washington, D.C.

The biggest benefit to this type of development, said Werfel, is that if a project's goal changes or the initial goal becomes irrelevant, modular systems are a smaller investment and typically flexible enough to be adapted to new pursuits.

Projects of a more traditional variety--in which about 80 percent of the budget goes to customizing a commercial solution--cannot quickly adapt to changing laws or technology and often have costs rise by hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.

"At the end of the day you have a very expensive three-ring binder sitting on your desk and you throw the project out and get rid of it."

Financial offices are more willing to fund smaller-step projects because of the visibility these consistent reviews give and because modular systems can be adapted to changing needs so spent funds are less likely to be wasted, he added.

Last June, OMB put out guidance (.pdf) on how to contract for the modular development of projects that Werfel says will help agencies determine if an IT project they are considering can be built in this fashion.

For more:
- download OMB's modular development guidance (.pdf)

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