DHS adds new ‘service' to reduce IT costs

Tuesday - 10/25/2011, 3:02pm EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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WILLIAMSBURG, Va.--Agencies are moving to email-as-a-service. They are starting to come around to infrastructure-as-a-service. And now the Homeland Security Department is introducing a new "as-a-service."

DHS chief information officer Richard Spires said the agency awarded two task orders to HP and CSC to provide workplace-as-a-service. DHS made the award under their data center contract.

"It's a bundled service," he said during a panel discussion at the 21st annual Executive Leadership Conference sponsored by ACT and IAC. "We are looking at virtual desktop infrastructure, mobile devices and smartphones. We are bundling these services and they will all sit in our private cloud."

DHS will begin a pilot in January. Spires said DHS expects significant savings from this flat fee approach.

The workplace-as-a-service is one of several initiatives DHS is taking on to save money. Spires said the department has 22 common operating picture systems and they don't communicate or collaborate very well.

"We have set up a governance structure and are driving toward a common architecture," he said.

In fact, Spires issued a memo to DHS component CIOs mandating they use enterprise services for commodity IT, such as email, storage and computing power.

Spires' guidance followed a similar policy from Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew giving agency CIOs oversight over all commodity technology.

"We want to leverage the buying power of the government and DHS," he said. "We will not develop any more test and development environments separately. We will not develop any new production environments on our own."

Spires said both of these initiatives are among the opportunities to change how DHS, and in many ways, the government buys and manages technology—even in the tight budget environment.

Dave Wennergren, the Defense Department's assistant deputy chief management officer, said the budget pressures are forcing agencies relearn the lessons of the past—collaboration, shared services and focus on execution and results.

"The focus has to be on the culture side because there is a lot of friction with the status quo," he said. "We have the opportunity now to move at the speed we need to because of the budget pressures and technology innovation."

For example, Wennergren said DoD is building an enterprise information Web platform for personnel data. The concept is to let each of the military services and DoD agencies bring all their human resources data together in a federated approach that is based on standards. DoD is working on this platform after failing to deliver on its Defense Information Management Human Resource System (DIMHRS).

"We are doing away with the concept of a data warehouse where all this data resides," he said. "We want to expose data to those who need it in a way they can do a query and find the skills they need."

The CIO Council also is trying to help agencies find skills they need. Spires, who also is the vice chairman of the council, said the organization is creating a collaboration platform for CIOs to connect and collaborate.

"It is not easy to research across government, to find lessons learned and best practices," Spires said. "We are starting with government only personnel and doing some pilots with the committees on the CIO Council."

He said the council is using commercial capabilities to develop the platform inexpensively.

The administration gave up on a similar concept FedSpace earlier this summer.

Along the lines of shared services, OMB will issue a new shared services architecture in December.

Lisa Schlosser, OMB's deputy administrator for e-government and IT, said it's part of the 25-point IT reform plan, and a push for actionable architecture.

"The goal is to come up with clear objectives from the architecture to maximize investments and reduce duplication," she said. "The focus is on interagency shared services."

Schlosser said OMB soon will ask industry and agencies for comment on the approach.

Spires said the council also is working on a way to bring some of the larger bureaus, such as IRS or Census, into the decision-making process.

Dan Matthews, a former Transportation Department CIO and now senior vice president for strategic programs at Information Innovators, said 70 percent of the IT budget is spent at the bureau level. He said it would be useful to bring these larger bureaus into the mix as a way to encourage change more quickly.

In the 1990s, the General Services Administration ran such a council, but it didn't continue after the Clinton administration.

Schlosser, Wennergren and Spires all agreed to meet mission in these tight budgetary times, agencies need to change the way they buy, build and manage technology.

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