Agencies see potential of putting HR systems in cloud

Friday - 4/13/2012, 5:22am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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Agencies are ready to take on the next frontier of cloud computing services: human resources systems.

The General Services Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs are among the first agencies taking a serious look at moving their HR applications to the cloud.

VA released a request for proposals to the four private-sector shared service providers-Accenture, IBM, Carasoft and Allied Technologies.

Cynthia Vaughn, director of VA's HR line of business management office, said the agency plans to make an award by the end of the year.

GSA is a little behind VA and still is developing its acquisition strategy.

Dennis Papula, director of GSA's HR Business Management Office in the Office of the Chief People Officer, said the agency is a shared service provider for HR systems. He said all 40 of its federal customers use GSA's system in a private cloud.

GSA and VA are just two of what could be many agencies that could move to HR systems to cloud service providers.

500 HR systems across government

With more than 500 of these HR applications across the government, the Office of Management and Budget sees the possibility of great savings by moving these systems to shared service providers in the cloud.

Federal chief information officer Steven VanRoekel listed HR systems as one of several possible areas agencies could move to shared services by December 2012, as required in the IT budget passback guidance.

While many small agencies moved to a share service provider under the Bush administration's HR Line of Business initiative, most large agencies continue to use internally hosted systems.

VA decided to move to the cloud because it's internally hosted system is 48-years-old and runs on COBOL.

"There are problems with the interface with our HR solution and DoD's DFAS solution, which is our e-payroll provider, which impacts our employees," Vaughn said Thursday at the Federal Workplace conference in Washington sponsored by LRP Publications. "A lot of the reasons why we have problems is because of data conversations because our technology is so old we have to convert data. We have to convert data before we send it to DFAS, and they have to reconvert the data to their system and make it appropriate. The new provider will actually follow the OPM data rules so when we do that interface it should be seamless and we will not have to do any data conversion."

She added VA created an integrated product team (IPT) made up of IT employees, business owners, contracting experts, security and privacy officials and many other stakeholders.

Business process re-engineering is key

Under the IPT, VA created a business process re-engineering working group to ensure they don't get caught in the trap of customizing the technology instead of changing how they do HR functions.

The VA's integrated product team is leading that contracting effort and making sure all the right clauses are in place.

Vaughn said the one thing missing in the HR environment is a template so agencies can make sure they have covered all their bases when it comes to cloud and HR systems.

GSA, meanwhile, is using many of the lessons learned from its move to email in the cloud.

Papula said GSA is keeping several things in mind as it develops an acquisition plan.

"The first one is the data migration. That's going to require us to fully document what formats we have, structures and potential integration points. The second thing is security and privacy," Papula said. "With any solution, security and privacy are of paramount concern, but especially when we are talking about HR solutions. We are talking about folks with their personally identifiable information. We need to be very clear with industry around cloud security and take that very seriously."

Papula didn't offer a timeline in terms of when or if GSA would have a solicitation out for HR in the cloud.

Coast Guard to refresh HR system in private cloud

The Coast Guard moved its HR system to a private cloud, or managed service, in 2003.

It will release a solicitation to refresh the system and cloud offering in by June, said Mike Fijalka, chief of the HR information services for the Coast Guard.

Fijalka said the Coast Guard saw immediate benefits with its HR system in the cloud, including the system becoming available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, instead of the typical 14 hours a day, while the other 10 was used for maintenance.