Interior shifts CIO, IT consolidation initiatives into a new gear

Thursday - 12/12/2013, 12:26pm EST

The Interior Department dismantled the traditional set up of chief information officers nearly three years ago now.

Former Secretary Ken Salazar mandated there would only be one CIO in the entire department in December 2010. That model now is the basis for a key provision in the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). The Senate was expected to take up FITARA as part of the Defense Authorization bill this week. The bill is stuck in limbo several non-related controversial issues.

Bernie Mazer is that one CIO for Interior. He said the department is moving out of the initial start-up phase when bureau-level CIOs became assistant directors for information resources (ADIR), and Mazer's office began consolidating commodity IT services, including reducing 14 email systems to one and paying $34.8 million to Onix Networking to host Google mail in the cloud.

"Now we are moving into the implementation phase and we are starting to see some tangible successes," Mazer said. "We've implemented in integrated records and document management system, we call the eMail Enterprise Records and Document Management System (eERDMS). We've consolidated 55 data centers, including 13 in this past fiscal year. We are starting to move a lot of data and applications to the cloud through a cloud hosting foundation contract, which is managed by the OCIO. More recently, we realigned IT components from the Interior Business Center to the OCIO. This has brought a lot of new skills, experience and capacity to the OCIO and this will help us in our approach in delivering departmentwide IT through IT shared services organizations."

Mazer said changing the culture of the organization hasn't always been easy. But he said his office tries to over communicate about technology or personnel changes.

Mission IT only

He said many of the ADIRs now can focus on the mission IT for the bureau instead of the commodity or common technologies, which will be delivered through a shared service.

"We work with them actively every week on collaboration and good governance. We take active steps to ensure we've got consultation, input as well as good sound technical advice from people in the bureaus," Mazer said.

He said within the OCIO there is a shared services organization that is focusing on infrastructure activities such as hosting, workplace computing, telecommunications and an enterprise service desk.

Another organization focuses on policy, planning and compliance issues such as enterprise architecture, cost-benefit ratios and cybersecurity.

"We've actively gathered the insights and inputs and then following deliberations we move forward. More often than not, I will not talk about a unanimity of consensus, but we've generally get the broadest based consensus of decisions we are moving forward to," Mazer said. "We really actively examine the equities involved of who's using what as well as who could be using something in a different manner. This is always a work in progress when you do review boards or governance boards in how you ensure inclusion and then also ensure we are moving at an appropriate deliberative yet fast pace."

As part of the culture change, Mazer said his office goes out to the field to gather ideas and make sure the technology meets their needs as customers.

One approach Interior took for the first time was a survey of employees on the move to cloud email and received more than 10,000 responses.

"It was very fruitful digestion for us to follow up on areas we could improve upon or areas we don't necessarily have to pay a lot of attention to," Mazer said. "Because of the result of the survey, we are able to tailor a lot of our training materials to exactly what the customers want from the use of these particular tools. We've also established a couple of email boxes where the staff can provide feedback on the various areas where we are moving into the cloud."

Mazer said two of the most frequent ideas they heard from employees that have been implemented were simultaneous editing of documents with live chat and video conferencing tools. He said this instantaneous and online communication is a major change from the way Interior previously worked, which was mainly by emailing documents.

"We also have a faster and more reliable network. We've done a lot to optimize our network and consolidating circuits so this is also improving the users' experience and it's not like a game of excitement whether or not something is working or not," he said.

Going forward, Mazer said Interior re-evaluated its priorities and has a renewed focus on high return projects that can be accomplished quickly.