NOAA plowing through the growing, complex challenges CIOs face

Thursday - 5/16/2013, 11:02am EDT

Joe Klimavicz & George DelPrete

Download mp3

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expanding its move to cloud computing, looking for shared services first before investing in IT development and creating a governance structure that gives its chief information officer more authority over commodity IT spending.

In a nutshell, Joe Klimavicz, NOAA's chief information officer and director of high performance computing and communication, said he's doing his best to mute the impact of what many CIOs say are their top three challenges: budget, cybersecurity and workforce.

"You have to pay attention to the budget environment, but I think it presents a unique opportunity for us," Klimavicz said. "It's forcing us to be more creative, to develop innovative solutions to solve our problems and still meet the demands of our customers for efficient and effective IT solutions."

Priorities remain unchanged

Budget, cybersecurity and workforce challenges rose to the top in TechAmerica's recently released 23rd annual survey of federal CIOs.

TechAmerica and Grant Thornton conducted in person or online interviews with 41 respondents from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Klimavicz said he'd add on more to the top challenges: governance. He said cybersecurity and dealing with lower budgets are tied for getting his most attention, but without a governance structure, successfully navigating these other challenges would be much more difficult.

The Commerce Department's acting Secretary Rebecca Blank signed a memo in June to give the agency CIO the authority to manage technology through a portfolio approach. Klimavicz said Simon Szykman, the Commerce CIO, delegated some of that authority to the bureau level CIOs.

"We are in the process of taking all those policy areas and building implementation plans and details for how we will use those authorities to drive efficiencies," Klimavicz said. "In Commerce, we are trying to centralize the management of IT. We are doing it incrementally and in phases."

George DelPrete, a principal with Grant Thornton and the chairman of the TechAmerica CIO Survey, said governance often came up during the survey interviews, especially around CIO authorities.

Respondents overwhelmingly said the Office of Management and Budget's memo to give CIOs more authority over commodity IT spending had no effect on them.

"I was surprised 73 percent of the folks we interviewed said it produced no change," DelPrete said. "They didn't disagree with it. I think they thought there was a lot of good points and efforts in there to give the CIO more control, but it wasn't accomplishing what they had essentially sought out to accomplish."

Iaas, Paas in the future

Klimavicz said while Commerce continues to sort out the budget oversight process, he's taking moving forward with several initiatives to reduce his costs, or at least make them more transparent.

NOAA already moved 12 applications to the cloud, including email and collaboration. Klimavicz said the bureau is getting ready to take a deep dive into both platform- and infrastructure-as-a- service.

"One of the things people don't talk about much, cloud really improves the business model for CIOs. It reduces IT to a bill. It makes it a lot easier to explain to people, 'Here is the cost of IT. Here's what we need to pay to get the service,'" he said. "If you look at other utilities, and I've been trying to get to a utility model for IT for a long time, electricity, water, facilities, all of these things have a fixed cost. It simplifies provisioning IT to a great extent by moving to cloud solutions."

Other agency CIOs say cloud is playing a big role in their technology plans. The survey found 94 percent of the respondents have already or are planning to adopt public or private cloud services.

DelPrete said that result was most surprising because of how high the percentage is across the CIOs.

Klimavicz said security and trust still are the biggest challenges around cloud.

"In our case, it comes down to defining requirements," he said. "What kind of security requirements to you need and that drives the decision whether it's public or private."

DelPrete said along with trust and security, working with the acquisition community buy cloud services in a different way is a growing challenge. He said contracting officers are used to buying technology in a "waterfall" approach as opposed to the "by the drink" approach.

BYOD growing acceptance

In the survey, CIOs said they need to collaborate more with the acquisition community to develop the strategy to buy technology.

Klimavicz said the biggest surprise in the survey was the high percentage of CIOs — 47.8 percent — who said their agency has a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy in place.