Reality, new trends force infrastructure makeover
As technology advances, agencies are under pressure to move forward in the face of modern budget realities
When Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel gave testimony to a Senate oversight committee in May on what was needed to reform the government’s spending on IT while still enabling innovation in government services, he laid out a scenario that will shape agency IT infrastructures for many years.
Agencies face unprecedented pressures in the form of a rapidly evolving technology landscape, rising public expectations and the need to operate securely in an increasingly interconnected world at the same time that the government is driving toward flat or declining budgets, VanRoekel told the Senate panel.
“To meet these challenges, we need to shift investments away from the costly maintenance and operation of legacy IT systems to 21st-century solutions that enable us to innovate with less,” he said.
Central to that is the move away from the traditional approach to infrastructure, which is to build out within the agency itself, because it has led to what VanRoekel described as “outdated technology [and] infrastructure and rampant duplication.”
The Obama administration has focused on data center consolidation and the move to shareable technologies such as cloud computing to try to deal with that. More recently, the Office of Management and Budget released the Federal IT Shared Services Strategy, a requirement of the 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management issued in December 2010, that agency CIOs could use to help eliminate waste and duplication.
As part of the strategy, agencies are required to submit to OMB a high-level description of their business objectives and the enabling IT infrastructure by the end of August, as an element of their enterprise road maps for fiscal 2010 to 2015.
Other fast-moving trends are also forcing agencies to look hard at what their infrastructures can handle, not least the demand for mobile computing. Just a few years ago, that was barely on anyone’s radar, but there’s now an explosion in demand from users for agencies to accommodate smart phones, tablet PCs and other devices.
TechAmerica, a leading technology industry association, recently completed its 22nd annual survey of federal CIOs and found that mobility was one of their biggest concerns. On their wish list was a “framework for fast development of mobile technology because demand is surging and changing quickly.”
A potential wrench in that mix is the need to address bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments, an area of acute concern because it introduces the possibility of agency employees bringing and using their personal smart phones and mobile devices to work when their agency-provided devices don’t give them the ability to access e-mail and other personal services.
That has a huge implication for infrastructure. Agency-issued devices can be labeled and tracked, but with BYOD, no one knows where that user will come onto the network. That points to the need for an authentication component in the infrastructure that hasn’t been planned for and emphasizes the refocusing of infrastructure from a traditional network-centric approach to more of a user-centric model.
“If we just take e-mail alone, sitting at my desk, I have my laptop open and I have my tablet and two phones,” said Mike Zirkle, associate director of government solutions at Verizon Wireless. “So just within arm’s reach, I have four sources that can pull e-mail, so how do I manage identity and security policy for those?”
As part of a digital strategy published by the Obama administration in May, an OMB advisory group and the federal CIO Council are to come up with governmentwide guidelines for BYOD by the end of September.
The digital strategy, along with the 25-point plan and other initiatives, marks the launch of “government as a platform,” VanRoekel said.