At DHS, a 'true-cloud' is launched

Richard Spires says his goal is to move the ball forward a little every day — four balls, actually.

Spires, CIO at the Homeland Security Department, is leading the effort to make progress in four key areas of IT at DHS: IT infrastructure rationalization, improving the department’s ability to execute programs, developing an enterprisewide view of IT operations to help reduce duplication and redundancies, and redressing the workforce balance between DHS’ IT employees and contractors.

“I believe we’ve had some real success in a number of areas in the last year,” he said. “I don’t feel that I’m done yet. I don’t feel like I’m ready to walk out the door or anything.”

In the infrastructure rationalization area, DHS is consolidating 43 data centers into two enterprise data centers that will also host the department’s Private Cloud Services. DHS is moving nine different operations to its private cloud, including, for example, e-mail services. “We’re on track to migrate 100,000 individuals to this new e-mail as a service in the next six months,” Spires said.

As part of its two-part cloud computing strategy, DHS also plans to move its public-facing websites to public clouds. “I would say this year I’m probably most proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in establishing our true cloud capability,” he said.

Spires also points to another success under the infrastructure rationalization program — OneNet, which will connect all of the department’s 22 components under a wide-area network infrastructure. In the works since 2008, OneNet will be completed by end of this calendar year, Spires said.

In addition to striving to improve program management at DHS, Spires is also adopting an end-to-end view of IT operations to address redundancies and reduce application duplication.

“In the past year, we’ve identified more than 130 human resources systems in this department,” he said. “We don’t need 130 HR systems ... so we’ve been doing a lot of work with the [chief human capital officer’s] office in order to rationalize [redundant applications]. We are moving forward with a plan to do that over a number of years.”

Another major area of focus for Spires is altering the contractor-employee ratio in DHS’s IT services operations, which he oversees. “When I walked in here there, were a little over 100 feds and about 1,500 contractors,” he said. “That certainly isn’t the right balance. Not that I have anything against the contractor community — I don’t. I was in that community. But it wasn’t the right balance for the kind of work we needed to do.”

Two years later, IT services has 360 employees and will have about 400 when the rebalancing program is finished, Spires said. “We’ve had to lower the number of contractors to do this, but I feel we have a much stronger organization because we’re able to do much more effective oversight.”

Having worked in the private sector before going into government service, Spires said he has an understanding of how contractors operate and the pressures they face. His experience in industry “helps me better understand their dynamics [not only] as we negotiate deals but also as they execute,” he said. “Some of the practices I learned in the commercial sector about how to run IT, whether it’s program management or operations, definitely helped me as I’ve come into the government.”

Spires joined DHS as CIO in 2009 after a stint at the Internal Revenue Service as deputy commissioner for operations support, CIO and associate CIO for business systems modernization. Before taking the IRS position, he was president and chief operating officer of Mantas Inc., a software product vendor. He also spent more than 16 years at SRA International, working his way up from systems and software engineer to senior vice president of SRA’s commercial sector.

Looking ahead, Spires said he thinks budget cuts pose perhaps the biggest challenge for government IT officials. “How we continue to provide at least the same level of service and hopefully improve services under a declining budget situation is certainly a major challenge,” he said.

About the Author

Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in Maryland.


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