VA to get ruthless on redundant software

Tuesday - 5/17/2011, 3:09pm EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

HOT SPRINGS, Va.-The Ruthless Shutdown Project is the next technology reform initiative at the Veterans Affairs Department.

Roger Baker, VA's assistant secretary for information and technology and chief information officer, said his office is reducing the more than 64,000 software packages employees use across the department.

"We run over 300 different applications in our Austin corporate data center," Baker said Tuesday during the Management of Change conference sponsored by ACT/IAC. "We know this because Austin is a franchise fund and they itemize for us what we are getting charged for in running. When you get to 300 applications and you see every application costs a few hundred thousand dollars that bill adds up. We've got to look at how we do we start addressing those applications."

Baker said VA will look at big and small applications that run on their data center, their servers and on their desktops.

He said the applications in the data centers are where the big potential savings could occur because of the costs to maintain and support.

Baker said one of his targets is the health data repository.

"We have VISTA systems that keep health data. We have a corporate data warehouse that now extracts data from the VISTA systems on a regular basis. And we have a health data repository that sits in-between and does a little bit of what both of those systems do," Baker said. "At $30 million a year for development and maintenance of that system, I could think of a lot better things to do with that $30 million if it's a redundant system and if we can find a way to make certain all of its customers are served without having to run that redundant system."

For VA, the further development of its enterprise architecture or technology roadmap is key to this effort.

Baker faced tough questions from lawmakers on the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations last week about the agency's lack of progress in developing a usable EA.

Baker told lawmakers that Paul Tibbits, VA's deputy CIO, recently took over the effort and is starting with developing a technical reference model (TRM).

The TRM will help VA with the ruthless shutdown effort because it will standardize the versions of hardware and software across the agency.

"When you print out 64,000 items in a PDF document, it's about 100-and-some pages long. 50 pages of that document are individual software packages where there is one copy inside the VA infrastructure," Baker said. "That's probably a good indication of things that really shouldn't be there. We have to start working up that list. We probably have between 500 to 1,000 packages that ought to be running, that ought to be authorized as part of the TRM."

Baker is framing this effort as part money saving exercise and part natural progression that many private sector organizations have gone through.

He said VA expects its IT budget to drop by nearly $700 million in fiscal 2012, down to $3.16 billion so ensuring efficiencies in every part of the organization is important.

Part of the way VA will address the budget cuts is by increasing its use of cloud computing. Baker said the applications that have only a few users could be hosted on a cloud for a much lower cost.

"When you start thinking about closing down an application, the first thing you will ask is 'Is there a cloud app for that? Can we provide access to some cloud app that 10 people need instead of VA running a particular application?'" he said. "I think we will start factoring that in and take our low priority applications and look for something in the cloud."

Baker said for VA to use a cloud, the provider must meet three requirements:

  • The individuals accessing the information on the cloud are authorized to see the data so access to those cloud apps will go through VA's authentication process.

  • The apps also much be secure and kept private.

  • The data must be stored in a data center in the U.S.

"The real cloud is the cloud we can't control and the one that because of that has some tremendous apps in it that our users and our customers want to use to access our information," he said.

Baker said he also would like to see a vendor put a government approved financial management application in the cloud--something federal CIO Vivek Kundra also called for recently--and an open source version of VA's VISTA software in an external cloud.