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Emerging Business Intelligence Opportunity – Mobilizing the Federal Workforce

Originally published March 23, 2010

While it may seem that business intelligence (BI) already permeates almost every corner of the business environment, new applications continue to emerge. A case in point, and the focus of this article, is the move to “mobilize” the Federal workforce and redefine where it does its work. At the same time, workforce and workplace mobilization (W2M) will create significant new opportunities for BI providers.

Key Drivers

The root motivation for W2M is a fundamental transformation now taking place in the Federal workforce as well as the expanded expectations and requirements it must satisfy. Key drivers of this change include (but are not limited to):
  • Workforce Demographics: After decades on the job, large cohorts of experienced Federal workers in various agencies are reaching retirement age. We reported in a previous article that according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), 60% of all federal workers will be eligible to retire in the next ten years. Even more alarming, 90% of the Senior Executive Service (federal government’s top managers) will also become eligible in the same period. Retirements were projected to peak in 2009 at more than 62,000, but the books are still open on the final number. This is a major knowledge retention challenge for the government, which is further exacerbated by the Administration’s plan to expand the workforce to 2 million.

  • Competing for Talent/New Hire Expectations: To successfully re-provision its workforce, Federal agencies must compete with private and other public sector employers. One critical success factor will be the government’s ability to meet today’s job candidates’ expectations regarding the workplace. In general, these individuals have had significant exposure at school, home or in other jobs to “fully wired” environments. It’s therefore not too surprising that they expect a workplace incorporating modern, up-to-date technology, as well as policies that help rather than hinder them in getting their jobs done. They essentially want the ability to “work anywhere,” something that many current Federal agencies do not provide.

  • COOP/Resiliency: All Federal agencies have had plans for contingency operations for years. The reality of the war on terrorism, unprecedented weather events like this year’s East Coast blizzards as well as the cost of shutting down the Federal government (estimated to be approximately $100M/day by OPM) are pushing agencies to exchange “paper plans” for real capabilities. The observed results to date show that there are major gaps that must be overcome before this goal is met.

  • “Green” Compliance: Just this year, the Administration established specific goals for Federal agency reductions in their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon footprint. Real adjustments to work-related employee travel patterns (including commuting) and shrinking of employer facilities are going to be required to achieve compliance.

  • Budget Dynamics: For many agencies, non-discretionary spending is starting to “crowd out” operational funding, causing agency management to look for ways to reverse this trend. As Personnel and Facilities are the two biggest cost items for most organizations, creative ways to cut these expenditures are gathering steam. With the Federal government being the world’s largest landlord (owning 500,000 properties), real estate and facility operational cost reduction probably has highest potential for the level of cost savings required.


Responding to the drivers identified above will require some very fundamental changes in the Federal workforces and their workplaces. And to succeed, these efforts must be well planned and their execution well managed. To some observers, including the authors, nothing short of a transformation to “mobilized” workforces and workplaces is required. Key required elements of this transformation strategy include:
  • Alternative Workplace Arrangements (AWA). The GSA Office of Real Property Management published an interesting document in June 2009 under the title “Right Place, Right Time, Right Solutions: Alternative Workplace, Arrangements and Asset Management.” It provides different perspectives from private and public sector experts addressing the technologies, trends and initiatives molding the workplace and workforce of the future.

  • Formalized Telework (TW) Program: Probably the most visible aspect of AWA in the Federal government to date is telework, which is touted as the key component in providing high performance and high-quality workplaces to government employees. It is also supposed to substantially alleviate many of the environmental and other quality-of-life problems confronting the 21st century workforce.
Telework is often referred to as “telecommuting, flex time or flexiplace,” and it certainly has the potential to allow employees to work effectively from a remote environment rather from a traditional office. We all know how technology – laptops, Internet, handhelds, virtual private networks, security applications and tools, etc. – has made it possible to work just about anywhere.

OPM announced a new telework policy in April. In it, there is recognition that strong performance metrics appropriate for individual agencies must be set and that they must pay attention to training employees in using technology. OPM also created a council of telework program managers to set government-wide standards.
OPM acknowledges, of course, that not all jobs are candidates for telecommuting, and that success in the initiative is going to require changing a current culture of skepticism among Federal middle-level managers.

GSA has also taken a leadership role in driving telework and wants to lead by example. In 2008, the agency implemented an aggressive initiative using diverse communications mechanisms to disseminate the benefits of telework. Among the benefits cited: reduced energy use, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, less traffic, less U.S. dependence on foreign oil, increased worker productivity and savings for American taxpayers. GSA cites that 43% of its employees already work off site, and it has set an objective to have 50% of its eligible employees telecommuting by the end of 2010.

Even Congress is theoretically committed to driving AWA and telework. In fact, 2009 saw a fair amount of legislative activity toward the expansion of telework for the Federal workforce.

But despite these activities and pronouncements, the Federal government lags far behind private sector employers in terms of eligible employee participation, which is at 8% (according to the OPM 2008 Annual Report on Telework) vs. 30% for typical private sector employers. And of the actual Federal AWA/TW programs initiated, many have not reached their true potential as they were:
  • Informally organized, marginally staffed and poorly managed

  • Marginally funded

  • Viewed as non-strategic in the eyes of upper level agency management

  • Actively opposed by middle management who commonly regard AWA/TW as an “employee benefit” rather than a high-leverage tool for employers.

The Government’s Opportunity

Regardless of these past Federal obstacles and less than stellar results, the potential impact of fully backed, well planned and resourced W2M strategy (including AWA, telework and actives real estate management elements) on the Federal workforce challenges outlined above is huge. And private sector adoption of similar strategies has already proved these benefits, as shown by the experience of IBM.

IBM initiated its “Mobility” (combining AWA/TE and real estate management) strategy in 1995. It now boasts that “40% of its 386,000+ global employees do not have a traditional offices and many tens of thousands more work outside their offices at least some of the time. Since 1995, IBM’s owned and leased office space has been reduced by 78 million square feet; 58 million square feet were sold at a gain of $1.9B; sublease income exceeds $1B; and, in the U.S. alone, annual savings amount to $100M.” (See “Working Outside the Box: A Study of the Growing Momentum in Telework,” Institute for Electronic Government, IBM Corporation, January 21, 2009.)

That same document is quick to point out that as impressive as IBM’s numbers might be, they are a pittance when compared to what might be achieved by the Federal government, arguably the largest employer and landowner in the world with almost 2 million civilian employees working in over 3 billion square feet of office space owned or leased in approximately half a million buildings. Think what real cost savings might be achieved just in real estate and utilities. Furthermore, what might the impact be in traffic reduction, carbon emissions and energy consumption? IBM alone estimates that “In 2007, in its U.S. operations alone, its “Mobility” program conserved more than 5 million gallons of fuel and avoided more than 450,000 tons of CO2 emissions.” Finally, in its “shared” office facilities, IBM went from a ratio of office space to employee of 1:1 in the early 1990s to 8:1 in 2009 to as much as 15:1 in certain facilities as a result of its Mobility strategy.

The Business intelligence Opportunity

To this point, we have made little to no mention of business intelligence (BI) in the new workforce/ workplace model. But while the new W2M environment is emerging, the old maxim to “measure and manage” will need to be addressed in a variety of ways including:
  • Defining metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for a whole raft of areas such as facilities utilization, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints

  • Data sources and BI-specific resources need to be mapped into a new workplace IT architecture that is currently in an embryonic stage. We do know that providing the source data required to perform basic analytics in this new environment will require spanning multiple IT domains including real estate/facilities management systems through integrated workplace management systems (IWMS); human resources information systems (HRIS); space utilization management systems (hoteling); and specialized telework program management/governance systems
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as it represents the first time managers will have powerful access to cross-domain data on a real-time basis. Once they have become accustomed to using integrated data and business intelligence as a management tool, Federal managers, like their private sector counterparts, will demand many, many more applications of BI.

Bottom Line

In some ways, the Federal workforce’s nascent move W2M is similar to retail’s moving from pure “bricks and mortar” facilities to a mix of physical and virtual online marketplaces. This article has identified and described the opportunities similar changes will create both for Federal agencies as well as the vendor partners who assist them in making this transformation.

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


  • Ed VitalosEd Vitalos
    Ed is the Founder and President of Grey Wave Ltd. For more than 20 years, Ed has led projects  to define, develop and launch new service/product-based solutions with companies including PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, SAP and IBM. These solutions have encompassed emerging fields including data warehousing/BI; enterprise portals; knowledge management; workforce demographics, analytics and planning. His current focus is assisting  users and implementers in developing and executing workforce/workplace mobilization (W2M) strategies. Ed has an MBA in Marketing from Babson College as well as an AB in Political Science from Muhlenberg College. He served ten years in U.S. Army Intelligence, attaining the rank of Major. Ed may be contacted by email at evitalos@friend.ly.net or on his mobile phone at (410) 804-7477.

Recent articles by Dr. Ramon Barquin, Ed Vitalos



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