IT & Networks

Don’t leave federal IT future to chance [Commentary]

Near the end of each year, experts and analysts make their best efforts to offer a crystal ball into the year ahead. Predictions vary in their accuracy, but they aren't intended to define decisions in the coming year, just to predict. In the federal community, we have the ability to make a real change – to improve how we serve citizens, protect warfighters and spend taxpayer dollars. So this year instead of predictions, I propose three New Year's resolutions that can propel federal agencies into a successful year of IT modernization and advancement. 

Audit Your IT Infrastructure and Retire Systems Over 10 Years in Age

Earlier this year, the GAO released a report revealing multiple IT systems that were more than 50 years old. While most network infrastructure is not quite this old, much of it is 10 to 20 years in age. The significant technological advancements in the last decade make this antiquated infrastructure unsuitable to support today's network traffic. This would be like the current population of the D.C. area attempting to commute on the infrastructure that existed in the 1960s.

To counter this issue, the first resolution I recommend for federal agencies is to retire all systems that are over a decade old. As agencies identify systems to retire, selecting the right solutions to scale for tomorrow is just as important. Infrastructure that is software-enabled, user-centric and based on open standards can help agencies adjust to digital transformation efforts. Additionally, visibility and automation are vital for tomorrow's network. Visibility can help identify potential network issues before they inhibit performance and cause downtime. Cross-domain automation allows the network to take action on these insights, even across the compute, storage and network domains, without the delay and potential error caused by human intervention. 

Think Critically About Cloud Adoption

Since the introduction of the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy in 2011, agencies have made notable efforts to move to cloud environments. There is no doubt that the cloud plays an important role in improving scalability and flexibility, but many agencies are moving too quickly towards public cloud environments and need to be more selective about the right approach.

Considering the wealth of sensitive information government agencies touch, the right solution is often a hybrid cloud. Just as a homeowner wouldn't share a key to their house while leaving their most valuable possessions right inside the front door, the convenience of cloud shouldn't require all applications and workloads to be treated with the same level of security. Hybrid cloud allows agencies greater control over more sensitive information and workloads, while still offering efficiency and flexibility to access less sensitive data and applications.

Allow the Private Sector to Do the Work

For agencies to fully focus on their missions, taking advantage of the great work already being accomplished in the private sector and working together in partnership is critical. Achieving this resolution starts by prioritizing collaboration with private organizations and taking advantage of commercial-off-the-shelf solutions. While there are instances of this taking place, this type of approach needs to be mandated across all agencies.

Improving how government works with the private sector also goes back to the acquisition process. Currently many RFPs are based on specific vendor solutions, going as far as to indicate a brand name. This discourages competition and as a result, agencies miss opportunities to utilize more appropriate technologies for their needs. RFPs need to be focused on outcome, encouraging participation and in turn, driving competition. The Federal Acquisition Regulation asks agencies to conduct market research as a part of the RFP process, but in reality, this does not always occur. To make the most of the work already being done in the commercial space, this needs to be mandated and enforced.

Our federal government has the power to accomplish a lot in the year ahead if they resolve to drive change. From retiring legacy technologies to revising the IT acquisition process, many of these resolutions align with government efforts currently taking place, it is just a matter of committing to accomplishing them.

What are your resolutions for 2017?

Philip O'Reilly serves as vice president of federal at Brocade Communications, leading the Brocade sales and partner ecosystem that supports the U.S. Department of Defense, Civilian Agencies and the Intelligence Communities. Mr. O'Reilly has over 30 years of experience in executive leadership roles in Fortune 1000 technology and manufacturing companies.

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