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How the IRS could have avoided its disastrous Windows Migration

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It’s projected to cost a total of $139M and by the time it’s over it will have lasted almost two presidential terms. However, the most shocking truth about the IRS’s migration from Windows XP Server 2003 is not the cost or the duration of the project but the fact that XP will be obsolete years before the project is completed. US government watchdog Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has publicly blasted the IRS for what it feels is extreme mismanagement.
So what went wrong?

Lack of oversight

One of the key issues with the project was that the IRS failed to follow established policies and had inadequate oversight and monitoring in place. This turned out to be a fatal error that allowed the project to spiral out of hand. At 1E, we’ve always recognized the benefit of naming an executive sponsor to ensure Software Asset Management (SAM) goals are defined and met on time, and on budget. While the IRS had an executive sponsor in the form of its CTO, the necessary oversight was lacking.

The absence of project management

Many of the established policies the IRS failed to follow in its Windows migration were around project management. Without sufficient project management in place, things soon became too large to handle. The project scope was 110,000 workstations with 6,000 applications, each of which had been upgraded rather than purchased new and therefore had to be assessed to see if it would operate on Windows 7. With effective project management in place, the IRS team would have been able to break the process down into more manageable tasks, for a faster, smoother and more successful project.

Lack of inventory controls

The official report on the IRS’s migration project reveals that at least 3,000 Windows 2003 servers did not have inventory controls in place, making them almost impossible to manage effectively. The report doesn’t detail whether there was an inventory system in place to capture hardware and software installation and fails to mention anything related to effective software asset management. This may be the biggest mistake the IRS made. As we know all too well, SAM processes are essential for helping large enterprises maximize their software investment for optimal value and impact. Without these in place, and given the size of the project in hand, the IRS was on a road to disaster.

SAM: The key to a successful migration

What makes the IRS’s apparently lack of adequate SAM processes so surprising is the fact that a 2014 GAO rating of government agencies’ software licensing practices found that its parent department – the Treasury Department – addressed at least some of the seven elements of a comprehensive license policy:

  1. Identifying clear roles, responsibilities, and central oversight authority
  2. Establishing a comprehensive inventory
  3. Regularly tracking and maintaining software licenses
  4. Analyzing software usage
  5. Providing training relevant to software license management
  6. Establishing goals and objectives for the software license management program
  7. Considering the software license management life-cycle phases

These guidelines are remarkably similar to the best practices 1E recommends to its clients, which is how we know that had the IRS followed them, it wouldn’t currently be the poster child for failed migrations. What we hope government agencies and large enterprises take away from this story is the vital importance of having these processes in place before undertaking any large-scale IT project – especially an OS migration.


The FORRESTER WAVE™: End-User Experience Management, Q3 2022

The FORRESTER WAVE™: End-User Experience Management, Q3 2022