While large-scale IT projects can spell success for Federal agencies in the longer term, smaller and shorter-duration projects may provide a better solution to advance the cause of IT modernization, Federal officials said today.

Larger IT modernization projects come with a lot of cost, can take too long to complete, and often have a higher risk profile, said Harrison Smith, Deputy Chief Procurement Officer for the Internal Revenue Service, at NextGov’s Modernization Roadmap event.

Smith said that contracts spanning five or more years may not be the way to go with all projects, and that “there are certainly going to be instances where you can afford to take very near-term decisions and have that conform to where you’re going to be going.”

“There’s a lot of risk involved in [long contracts] and you don’t find out until so much later,” Smith said. “And you don’t have the ability to pivot until so much later. If you’re doing that for five weeks – or five days – you can pivot and the [risk] is much, much, much more smaller.”

Going a step further, Polly Hall, Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Procurement Innovation Lab, said that her office likes to ask a key question: if a big project can’t be scaled down, why not?

“Is it because the procurement process is such a pain?” Hall asked. “Because if that’s the answer, let’s talk about it. Because we can make that more simple and more streamlined and more effective – not get you out of it so you can get back to business, but still let you have outs and pivot points.”

If the reason a large-scale project can’t be scaled down is a technology or programmatic reason, Hall says that’s different, but can be addressed by putting a large-scale contract that has flexibility and can grow as things change over time.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.