DHS wants end-to-end view of IT operations

DHS building enterprise operations center to get big view of IT operations, CIO Richard Spires says

The Homeland Security Department plans to build an enterprise operations center that will give network and systems administrators from component agencies a comprehensive view of how IT operations across the department are connected, Richard Spires, DHS’ chief information officer, said at an Input meeting today.

DHS continues to move forward with efforts to improve IT infrastructure, program performance and enterprise portfolio governance, Spires said during an Input Federal Executive Breakfast held in McLean, Va. DHS has an IT budget of $6.4 billion, he noted.

Data center and network consolidation are key ongoing initiatives aimed at improving DHS infrastructure. The consolidation of networks and establishment of connectivity across the enterprise for unclassified but sensitive information, known as OneNet, should be completed by June 2011.

“The next stage is to build out what we are calling an enterprise operations center -- probably two physical locations that will enable us to come together as a community for both network and systems operations,” Spires said.

Spires noted that many IT systems used by various agencies are interrelated. For example, the Transportation Security Administration’s passenger screening system uses systems run by Customs and Border Protection. The problem is in getting an end-to-end view of a system, especially when a problem needs to be corrected, he noted.

“The idea is to establish an enterprise operations center that will enable us to get that end-to-end view,” Spires said. The goal “is to have operators from each of the components work together in one physical location rather than spread around and [working] through teleconference, e-mail or chat.”

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As DHS moves to integrate campus headquarters in the capital region, officials are also looking to upgrade operations from an end-to-end basis, Spires said.

DHS continues to move along with plans to migrate 24 data centers into two state-of-the art facilities by 2014. By the end of fiscal 2011, many agencies or components will have moved mission critical operations to the new data centers such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, TSA, U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services, and U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology.

Spires, who is also coordinating the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative for the Office of Management and Budget, acknowledged that it is hard for organizations to give up control of their infrastructure and hand it over to someone else. The CIO's office needs to build trust, he said, adding that his office has reached a tipping point.

“We have a good migration strategy and have proved we can meet service level agreements and disaster recovery for backup,” Spires said. “We do anticipate finishing [the consolidation] in fiscal year 2014.”

Other areas need a lot more work. DHS’ record for running IT programs efficiently has been less than stellar, which is why DHS officials hired him, Spires said. He led efforts to modernize the Internal Revenue Service’s IT infrastructure while serving as the CIO in that agency.

DHS officials now are looking at how to institutionalize better practices and disciplines so the department will have a better chance of success with IT programs, he said. DHS is working to mature its own systems engineering life cycle and set up a center of excellence to bring in best practices, Spires said.

Eight years after its inception, DHS is still struggling to integrate all of its 22 different components. That’s no surprise, he said. The various silos of IT operations need to be broken down. “I have become a believer that one of the best ways to do that is through enterprise portfolio governance,” Spires said.

DHS has many business and IT functions that cut across multiple areas such as screening people, domain awareness or incident response, he said. “What we don’t do well enough is bring in the right people together on a functional view,” with the goal of making sure that projects are being performed in the best way and without duplication. The folks working with passenger screening are an exception because they have reached across organizations. However, in many areas within DHS, this is not happening.

Spires said DHS is in the early stages of pilots to improve enterprise portfolio governance.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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