Integrating CXO data at US Citizenship and Immigration Services with ServiceNow

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 15, 2021
US Citizenship and Immigration Services had little insight into its budgets and spending, which meant long-term planning was hard. It’s now integrating this data into ServiceNow.

Image of a USA passport against an American flag
(Image by cytis from Pixabay )

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS) sits within the Department of Homeland Security, the fifth largest government department, and is responsible for the entire US legal immigration system. It has an annual budget of over $2 billion and processes over eight million applications and petitions a year. 

However, despite its role and the significance of its work, just a short few years ago, UCIS was operating in a largely disparate way, with each of its CXO functions (finance, HR, IT, acquisitions) working in isolation. Not only this, but the way that UCIS is funded - via fees and full cost recovery, meaning that it didn't have to plan for a two year budget cycle - it meant that planning was always short sighted. 

Rick Sindel, Deputy Component Acquisition Exec, US Citizenship and Immigraiton Services, explains: 

This means our revenues can only be used by us, and that for the most part, we get to decide how our funds are used. This is both good and bad. It means we don't have to wait on the two year annual budget process and can be responsive to a new need, or a capability gap. It also means that we're structured to only be responsive and the culture is one where planning isn't fully ingrained. 

So it's been our objective for the last few years to implement a unified planning function across the various CXOs with acquisition programme management authorities. This includes the Chief Information Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, the head contracting authority, as well as the component acquisition executive.

Sindel is speaking at ServiceNow's Now at Work virtual event this week, where he and his colleague, Tim Smith, Chief Component Acquisition Executive at UCIS, explain how their function - Acquisition CXO - sits in the middle of the other CXOs and is using the ServiceNow platform to facilitate a common picture of investments over time. 

UCIS has over 850 investments, totalling $1 billion a year, feeding 75 programmes and supporting 160 projects. This used to be a manual review process, which was then transitioned to a SharePoint site. However, in 2016 the organization implemented ServiceNow. Smith says: 

We deployed ServiceNow in 2016 to manage our investment process. We made many iterative improvements since then, but our main goal was to reduce the number of form fillable PDFs that were being emailed to group mailboxes and tracked on multiple spreadsheets. 

We realized soon after deploying that we could use our data with other CXO offices - so in the years beyond 2016 we've made major improvements in the toolset to share that data. And where we are today is really wanting to be more transparent, amongst the community, and hold our stakeholders accountable. 

It really is about stopping the finger pointing between offices of where data is, or where requests have stopped or stalled, and to rein in things like the shadow IT budget across the agency. 

Improving transparency

UCIS had little transparency across the organization's $2 billion general expense budget, of which about $1 billion was for IT, according to Smith. This presented a challenge in terms of understanding the return on investment for projects, which may have started as research projects, but then go on for years and years, without coming to fruition. Smith says: 

We really want to turn off other systems once new ones come online - and we need to get them online sooner to cut down spending on the old ones.

The implementation of ServiceNow has helped to centralize an understanding of what's being spent where and on what across all UCIS functions. Smith adds: 

Right now we have about 400 actions that go through our workflows. Each year we're working to lower the threshold for things like purchase cards in very small contracts, and that will actually double the amount of actions this coming year to around 800. All of those go through one gatekeeper and having a workflow that's robust, a cloud based solution like ServiceNow, really helps us with that. 

Each of these requests has about 20 supporting documents, things like requirements, statements, government estimates, market research, that have to flow along with the request. And in some cases some of our large contracts take over 500 days to build out, from idea to award. And so we're working to try to take that number of days down by building in efficiencies and sharing data and holding stakeholders accountable. 

We really attacked our group mailbox philosophy, and every day we seem to come up with new, unknown group mailboxes out there that are receiving data that can stall and cause users frustration. 

Striving for more integration

The goal of the ServiceNow implementation has ultimately been to integrate the UCIS CXO community onto the same path. Smith adds: 

As we said before, many of these use the same data, or need to compare data, and this really helps us with the future year planning or multi-year planning that we've never really done UCIS. And we've embarked on an initiative to do multi year planning and show what our budgets are going to look like in the out years. 

They were not really integrated on the same path, that's our goal, and we're using ServiceNow to accomplish that. One of the ways that we're doing that integration is by reports and dashboards to show more transparency, And we think that transparency creates accountability.

The dashboards show shadow IT budget, or where in the timeline contracts are, those are the types of things we need to be more transparent about. We are also working on a drill down type of dashboard that takes data from multiple CXOs organizations and brings them to a spot to see if there's correlation between the silos, and how we can break down those walls or connect those data systems to improve our performance.

Sindel says that prior to the ServiceNow implementation, every CXO had their own stove pipes of excellence, where they implemented best practice, but this was done in a vacuum. This is now changing. He explains: 

For example, the CFO is building a multi- year budgeting tool that will feed into our investment system, helping us to establish for the first time ever, a multi-year budget and acquisition programme baseline that ties directly together. There's direct real time correlation between what we're seeing in our acquisition system versus what's in the financial system. 

The next one we're working on, but still implementing, is to have multi-year budgets and plans that are tied together across all the CXOs, to include Human Resources, Information Technology, Finance, Acquisition, etc. 

Tips for success

Sindel also offers some advice for other organizations that may be using ServiceNow to integrate organizational planning, budgeting and operations. These are not technology problems, but rather require continued engagement and communication across functions. He says: 

Really spend a lot of time getting to figure out how to best depict your problem. When you show it to leadership, make sure it's clear and concise, and then tie that problem to a real world event. We honed in on our lack of CXO integration and planning, in particular, and how it disrupted our ability to be proactive and to really have plans that we could judge progress against. 

Also, keep everyone engaged as you iterate towards a solution. We meet with all our major stakeholders and leadership at least once a week to iterate towards an integrated CXO and a greater community. This keeps them engaged and makes them part of the solution.

You can view the UCIS session at the ServiceNow Now at Work virtual event page. For all of diginomica's coverage from Now at Work, check out our dedicated event hub here

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