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CIOs’ goals: Shift investments to mobile, cloud

Jan. 10, 2013 - 01:43PM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments

Bracing for a year of budget austerity, federal chief information officers are prioritizing their efforts: Weed out duplicative contracts, share information technology services and focus any savings on investments in new mobile and cloud computing technologies.

“We have to figure out a way to continue to bring in all this great emerging technology … in an environment that’s quite austere and probably will get more austere,” Lisa Schlosser, federal deputy chief information officer, told industry and government officials in November.

Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients announced in October that agencies expect to save $2.5 billion over the next three years by consolidating duplicative IT systems, buying in bulk and eliminating failing projects.

Those savings were identified using an approach called PortfolioStat, where agency officials review their spending in search of duplicative investments and opportunities to consolidate projects.

For example, the Treasury Department expects to save $90 million over three years by consolidating key financial management systems. The Department of Homeland Security projects $376 million in savings by consolidating purchases for IT hardware and buying in bulk. And the Social Security Administration is rolling out an agencywide purchasing program that will save $59 million.

“We’re doing our best with less,” said Kimberly Hancher, CIO at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “I have become very cost-conscious.”

Hancher is also evaluating whether it saves to insource work traditionally done by contractors.

Schlosser highlighted PortfolioStat as a means for agencies to cut spending and free up money for the administration’s Digital Strategy initiative. The strategy directs agencies to create mobile applications, publicly release more digital data and better equip feds with mobile technology.

Among the deadlines set for May, agencies must:

• Launch an interagency mobile app development program and develop models to use commercial mobile applications.

• Make at least two priority citizen services available on mobile devices and publish a plan to offer additional mobile services.

• Develop governmentwide mobile and wireless security guidelines.

Homeland Security Department CIO Richard Spires is part of the group developing those security requirements. He said the guidelines can be used to address adoption of Bring-Your-Own-Device programs, which allow employees to use their personal smartphones and other mobile devices for government work.

EEOC, under Hancher, is a model for BYOD programs in civilian agencies.

So far, about 100 EEOC employees are participating in the agency’s BYOD program.

“It’s clear that people are using their personal devices for work in a productive manner,” Hancher said. “Once we get the actual feedback, where I can measure that and get some real data, I’ll feel confident in offering the program to [more] people.”

The challenge for many CIOs, however, is showing the benefits of such a program — whether it can be cost-effective and secure — and weighing the government’s liability for data or equipment loss. In a report released last month on CIO.gov, executives said they want more detailed guidance for BYOD.

Hancher said she wants guidance on reimbursing employees for using their personal devices for work. Sample documents from reimbursement programs at the state level have been released, but how they might be used on the federal level is unclear.

“I’m not sure where it’s supposed to come from, and I think that’s part of why it hasn’t happened,” Hancher said about guidance on reimbursements.

Over the next year, she plans to work with other agencies to model a federal reimbursement program for EEOC that could be shared with other agencies.

OMB asked the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council, a nonprofit forum for industry and government officials, to share commercial best practices for BYOD. The challenge is that companies view their BYOD policies as proprietary information, said Tom Suder, an ATC-IAC member and president and founder of Mobilegov, an app developer.

New apps

The next phase in mobile services is managing which applications employees can access, Hancher said. At EEOC, Hancher wants to vet popular apps like Google Maps and make them available to workers on government-owned and personal mobile devices.

Suder said he thinks agencies will give employees access to more information on their mobile devices, such as databases they need to do their jobs, not just email.

Last year, EEOC instituted a new policy that requires new software applications to have a mobile-friendly interface, unless it is impractical.

The agency also plans to develop an online and mobile service for EEOC’s customers — people with discrimination complaints — to schedule an initial interview to determine if they have a valid complaint. Today that request can only be made at an EEOC office.

Shared services

Govermentwide, sharing more IT services also is a priority. Under the Shared First Strategy, agencies were required to move at least two IT services to a shared environment by December.

“We need more and more pressure” to ensure agencies don’t run off and get their own when new technologies come out, DHS’ Spires said. Sharing services is especially needed during austere budget times, he said.

However, when interagency sharing opportunities arise, tracking down agencies that are using a particular product or piece of software can be challenging, said Michael Wash, CIO at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Wash said he has encouraged OMB to develop a registry where agencies publish their shared services.

NARA announced last month that it’s moving 4,500 email accounts to Google’s cloud email as a shared service for the department.

Cloud computing

OMB is pressing agencies for greater details about their cloud investments, including operational costs and a breakdown of cloud spending. The information will help OMB better track to what degree agencies are complying with the administration’s Cloud First policy, which requires new procurements to be secure, reliable and cost-effective cloud computing solutions, unless one doesn’t exist.

Agencies can’t make logical decisions about whether to move to the cloud, share services or update systems until they know what it’s costing them today, said Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights.

Agencies so far have focused on moving common IT services, such as email, to the cloud. The next step will be moving “mission” systems — financial management, logistics and other critical systems, Schlosser said.

A September survey of more than 150 federal IT managers and systems integrators found few agencies have moved critical systems to a cloud environment, mainly because of security concerns, worries that agency operations could be crippled if a cloud system failed and a lack of funding to modernize the applications so they can operate in the cloud

The survey, conducted by IT networking group Meritalk, said CIOs expect a quarter of their mission-critical apps will be in a cloud environment in the next two years and nearly half in the next five years.

GSA CIO Casey Coleman said at a November conference that GSA is considering putting mission applications in the cloud. She didn’t specify which mission systems, but said GSA has seen benefits from moving its email to the cloud last year. The combination of cloud email and mobile devices allowed GSA employees in the Northeast to remain productive even after losing power during Superstorm Sandy in October.

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