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What makes the Education Department’s modernization efforts successful

The Department of Education isn’t slowing down after recently receiving an “A+” score on its biannual IT scorecard — one of the first agencies to ever do so, along with the General Services Administration.

But the good tidings on the report card don’t mean that Education is slowing down. The department plans to consolidate some of its cloud infrastructure and secure its endpoint devices in 2020, Department of Education CIO Jason Gray told Federal Times.

In June 2019, the department finalized a five-year IT infrastructure roadmap, laying out how the department would approach IT modernization. The department moved off a 12-year-old legacy IT contract in June, freeing itself up to move forward.

“One of the top priorities is going to be stabilizing that and looking for ways to continue our modernization journey along that road map,” Gray said.

As part of that effort, Gray said that the department reduced its printer footprint by 56 percent in a month. The department also transitioned all its hosting environments to a centralized location in three months. That’s a fast pace for any agency’s digital transformation.

“In order to do that it required having really strong relationships and ... communicating, letting people know what we’re doing, why we were doing it, the impact,” Gray said.

Gray praised agency leadership at the department as imperative to the department’s success, starting with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos’ support during an initiative to greatly reduce the number of printers at the agency was very critical.

"The secretary was like, ‘everyone can go just a little bit further to get their print jobs, they don’t have to get it right there,’ Gray said. “And that type of support [is] unheard of.”

The department wants to reduce the number of clouds in its environment, which Gray said was “really key.” In fact, it’s 100 percent operating in the cloud.

“We are contractor-owned, contractor-operated from an IT-service delivery standpoint,” Gray said.

Over the course of the next year, the department will continue to work to improve its overall cybersecurity posture to get better insight into its network with the click of a button. Gray said that he wants to be more “proactive” with how the department assesses its risks.

In the next year, Gray said he is also excited about the department’s launch of its NextGen student aid platform, a new simplified platform that launching this month for students and parents to access federal loans. That program is set to launch this month.

The key in all of Education’s recent success has been people, Gray said.

What’s important is “genuinely building solid relationships with people across not only your own agency, but other agencies to make sure that you can get this stuff done that you need to get done,” Gray said.

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