West sets strategy to modernize PBGC's IT environment

Tuesday - 3/25/2014, 11:13am EDT

Barry West, CIO, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation

Download mp3

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation doesn't have a traditional big data problem like many agencies where information overload is a constant challenge. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of opportunities for the PBGC to make its data more accessible and less redundant.

Barry West, the chief information officer of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, said he's considering bringing in a chief data officer (CDO) to improve the agency's data management processes.

"There's been a handful of agencies, I think, have actually gone out and hired CDOs. I think you will see it growing. I talked to Gartner the other day and they said they've seen in the last 18 months a tremendous shift in the private and public sector in the role of the chief data officer," he said. "I think it's a position that could start out working with the CIO, but then possibly move up in the organization to a secretary or director level reporting authority because they are looking across the organization and from a business standpoint. It's not just about technology. It's looking at all of these various data streams across the organization, whether it's financial systems, your general counsel systems, or in our case, our benefit administration payments department, which is our biggest business unit here. It's looking at all those data streams and looking at how we can standardize better and reduce data redundancy in our databases."

The CDO concept is one of the ways West is bringing his industry experience back to the government. West returned to the government with PBGC about a year ago after spending the previous five years as a government contractor.

Before heading off to industry, West worked at a variety of agencies during his 25-year career in government, including stints as the CIO of the Commerce Department, FEMA and the National Weather Service.

West said one of the biggest lessons learned he's bringing back both from his industry experience and his prior government work is to anticipate results quickly and achieve them in a short period of time. He said he understands today more than ever the need to get the right people in the room to make decisions.

To that end, West published a new IT strategy that brings together those important lessons, and created a new governance committee to oversee PBGC's progress. The plan highlights five strategic goals:

  • Cybersecurity

  • Cloud computing and shared services

  • Information and data

  • Social collaboration

  • Mobility
Along with those strategic goals, there are three enabling services — customer service, governance and IT workforce.

West said cybersecurity is his top priority, as PBGC tries to close its material weaknesses.

"We've put together a tiger team of both feds and contractors who are focusing each day," he said. "They are not doing the day-to-day operations around security. I have a separate team that's focusing on these findings and recommendations in our material weaknesses. The first material weakness is around our IT security program itself and the second is around access controls and configuration management. That's really a big one. We've done some really good things over the last eight months to try to really enhance our security, getting extra resources, actually moving resources from other areas to focus more on security. I've also brought in the Cyber Security Assessment and Management (CSAM) tool, which is a line of business over at the Department of Justice. They have about 15 agencies which are using that service to house all of their plans of actions and milestones (POA&M), artifacts and security plans. Now we have one centralized repository rather than having people running around with spreadsheets."

West said he's in constant communication about their progress in improving cybersecurity with the PBGC inspector general as well as the chief management officer and the director of the agency.

After cybersecurity, West's other major priorities mainly focus on modernizing PBGC's IT infrastructure and computing environment.

He said cloud and mobility are moving down parallel efforts. PBGC is consolidating multiple versions of Microsoft SharePoint and moving it into the cloud.

"We are on target to have that completed by January of next year. So hope to do some testing in December," West said. "Also along with SharePoint, we will be moving our email to a true cloud environment so we are going through procurement strategies and are getting ready to put those requests for proposals up and working with our procurement shop now."

West said PBGC hasn't yet decided on the approach to putting email in the cloud. He said it could be a hybrid public-private set-up, but no matter the decision the vendor would manage the hardware and software. Over the next three months, he said PBGC will release the solicitation for email in the cloud with a goal of making an award in the fall.