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Intel agencies merge IT strategies

Challenges abound for vendors

Jul. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A man crosses the Central Intelligence A
The CIA and other agencies in the intelligence community are adopting a common approach for procuring information technology systems and services. (Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images)

The intelligence community wants to change the way it does business, not only within its walls, but also with its large information technology vendors.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last year approved a five-year strategy to standardize technology operations across the intelligence agencies, with IC chief information officer Al Tarasiuk spearheading the effort.

For the IC, it means agencies will no longer go it alone when procuring common IT services, such as cloud computing, network services and app stores. Instead, they will share systems, according to industry experts.

“The challenge here is there is a major shift for the IC,” said Nuhad Karaki, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Inceptre Corp. “They do not want to deal with technology and services tailored only to them. They want to deal with commercially proven solutions.”

Tarasiuk met last month with companies to discuss plans for proceeding with the IT strategy, which is called the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE), said Karaki, who also co-chairs the Intelligence and National Security Alliance’s (INSA) ICITE task force. Oracle, Microsoft, SAP and IBM are key players in the IT strategy, he said.

The task force released a report in February outlining the long-term goals of the strategy and the workforce and cultural challenges that come with any new government transformation.

“The IC stakeholders are very interested in making this a success,” Karaki said. “The challenge is not the technology; the challenge is the culture.”

That includes an entrenched mindset within industry of how it should conduct business with the government.

Many companies have thrived under a business model that requires agencies to pay for software licenses for each user, Karaki said, but now some are reluctant to change their business models to serve the IC as an enterprise.

Intelligence agencies, like their counterparts on the civilian side, want to buy IT software and hardware as metered services, where they pay only for the services they use, as opposed to estimating what they will need and having those resources go underused, or in some cases fall short when there are surges in demand for hosting or data storage needs.

The expectation is that pooling resources will reduce costs, and those funds will be used to propel ICITE initiatives.

But the IC is not immune to the sequester, and “what they want to try to do today may be very different from what kind of capabilities will be available to them [and] what they can afford in 2018,” said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of TechAmerica’s global public sector.

But Karaki said the strategy is already bearing some fruit.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency this spring wrapped up a pilot program to test capabilities that will allow agencies to share applications accessible from a central server, as opposed to residing on individual desktops, he said. The plan is to increase the number of users in the pilot from a few hundred to a few thousand, which will require buy-in from industry.

At “the end of the day, industry players have to play ball with the government because they have no other choice,” he said. They can agree to take in less revenue as the IC cuts costs or none at all.

Budget pressures are forcing the IC to change its IT environment, said Paige Atkins, vice president for cyber and information technology research at Virginia Tech Applied Research Corp. Atkins is also co-chair of INSA’s task force on the IC’s technology strategy.

People are the most expensive resources, and there should be savings as job functions are consolidated under a shared service.

Some savings under the ICITE project will likely be needed to develop new workforce skills in engineering, security, data management and data protection, according to the February report by INSA. At a hearing last month, Gen. Keith Alexander said the new IT environment is expected to help National Security Agency reduce the number of systems administrators and improve security.

The INSA report also defines a handful of expected services under ICITE and their designated providers:

■ NGA and the Defense Intelligence Agency will provide desktop environment services.

■ The CIA and NSA will provide cloud services.

■ The National Reconnaissance Office will provide transport services that provide the infrastructure for data to travel across the network.

■ NSAwill provide the applications mall that will be a central repository for apps that can be reused within the IC; and all agencies may have their own app stores.

The ODNI declined requests for an interview to confirm plans for these projects and their current status.

One thing that appears certain is a change in how industry supports the IC in a siloed manner, agency-by-agency, Atkins said. Industry needs to think about supporting an enterprise, not a single agency, which will require a different sales model.

While the intelligence market is challenging for newcomers to break into, companies like Amazon have proved there are opportunities for companies that can provide secure services, Karaki said, noting the CIA’s recent decision to award a $600 million contract to Amazon and not IBM.

“It is a fundamentally different way of doing business,” Atkins said. “Sometimes we lose focus of the industry impact as part of this transformation.”

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