Army Research Lab stays flexible to meet IT needs

Thursday - 10/4/2012, 8:52pm EDT

Rudy Mazariegos, CIO, Army Research Lab

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

For the Army Research Lab, it's all about striking the right balance when it comes to technology.

The lab supports more than 34 configurations of Apple iOS, Linux/Unix variants and Microsoft Windows operating systems.

Researchers need the assortment of platforms to meet ARL's mission. But to ensure the network is secure, ARL created the Innovative and Information Technology Evaluation Lab to test the configurations, develop the standard desktops and evaluate all the applications, said Rudy Mazariegos, ARL's acting chief information officer.

"Customer service is number 1. It's a core CIO function wherever you go, here it's just a little harder to do because of the many needs that the researchers have," Mazariegos said.

Finding the right balance also comes to the number of federal employees and contractors. Mazariegos said his organization has a $40 million IT budget, 44 full time employees and 170 contractors.

He said the type of IT employee ARL hires also is changing.

"Traditionally, this organization has had a lot of single disciplinary IT folks," Mazariegos said. "The new emphasis that we have there is what I call multiple disciplinary IT folks, for example that would be a person who just does not manage the Internet server, but some of the applications on it and works with the developers. So rather than have 10 people do basic Internet stuff, I have three."

ARL also is implementing more discipline in its processes to help strike a balance.

Mazariegos said ARL includes three IT branches:

  • Application management and development, which will ensure legacy systems have new path forward and will move to standard platforms.

  • Information resources, which manages ARL's five libraries and technical publications.

  • Corporate information management, which manages the contracting, support, personnel and other back-office functions.

"One of the things I did here in my first year-and-a-half is to seriously look at the organization to see if we are structured to be effective and efficient," he said. "The answer at that time was ‘yes, everything works, but there are lots of opportunities to do things better.'"

Mazariegos said he plans to hire 4-to-6 team leads to support the branch chiefs over the next six months.

He said ARL has about 30 custom financial applications, and the branch chiefs and team leads will help the organization move to a standard reporting and business intelligence platform.

"What we are looking to do is consolidate the core functions of what we have here, and migrate those areas where we need information and those areas where we have business requirements, and use the Army ones," Mazariegos said.

He added the Army, for example, has several initiatives to provide business information systems and ARL may migrate to them.

All of these efforts point to implementing the IT Information Library (ITIL) approach.

"There are a lot of things we can do more in terms of planning, strategic planning, governance and taking a holistic view to IT," Mazariegos said. "We continue to improve IT management. We are hoping to develop a capital planning and investment control process. At ARL that is a little bit of a challenge because the researchers and our research directorates pretty much have to buy into these things. ARL is structured organizationally very similar to what you would find in an academic environment or a university. In those organizations sometimes people are working on different sheets of music. Here it's an orchestration job that we are doing."

ARL has about 3,500 employees and more than 7,000 systems. Mazariegos said ITIL will bring discipline to how they consolidate and manage their applications and services, including help desk, repairs and development.

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