Retooled agency IT can repower agency IT systems

Scott stresses the IT changes a $3.1B revolving fund could bring

When computers were first introduced into government, they automated tasks and calculations performed by humans. But now that automation is costly to maintain and doesn’t meet the demands of today’s government users, according to federal CIO Tony Scott.

“For every thousand dollars that I’ve spent on information technology over the years, I’ve calculated that roughly $150 goes to maintenance year after year,” Scott said, speaking at the Cloud Security Alliance Federal Summit on May 12 in Washington, D.C. While computing power doubles every two years or so, agencies are still working on fixed-capacity systems adopted 10 to 20 years ago.

“Some of the compute we bought for $1,000 many years ago, has less compute power than your iPad,” Scott explained. Using cloud services and adopting a cloud infrastructure, he said, can give agencies the power and storage they need.

To get to cloud, Scott said agencies must reimagine the IT organization, which involves setting goals and roadmaps that rely more on shared and cloud services and common capabilities. IT departments must focus on core mission capabilities rather than on running email and common services. Additionally, agencies must train people within the organization -- including repurposing staff maintaining legacy systems -- on cloud computing, find a supply base that understands the mission and recognize and reward the people who are helping to get to the cloud faster.

One way to address the cloud funding challenge is with the White House’s proposed $3.1 billion IT Modernization Fund.  The ITMF would serve as a mechanism for agencies to upgrade legacy IT to more modern, cloud-based systems, without having to cut spending in other areas.

According to Scott, his office and team of seven people, which includes technology, business process and contracting experts, would administer the ITMF. The team would judge proposals that focus on cybersecurity, cloud and shared services; the upgrade and replacement of legacy applications and infrastructure; agile development and rapid delivery of capabilities.

It’s a way of “seeding the upgrading and replacement of some of this legacy stuff,” Scott said. The funds would be kept within the General Services Administration, and proposals would get accepted and funded as capabilities are delivered.

Agencies would also have to pay back the funds they were awarded, which Scott said is a critical part of the ITMF. “Digitization of these critical government services is going to require everybody’s attention and focus,” Scott said. “One way I know to do that is to make them pay for it.”

International Trade Administration CIO Joe Paiva said that if the ITMF becomes a reality, agencies should use it to make the cloud a backend service. He envisions a platform where agencies could, for example, create an application in Salesforce, take the HTML and load it to another cloud service like Microsoft Azure, and get the same result.

“That would be a true backend-as-a-service -- that’s the cloud service I’m looking for,” Paiva said in a panel at the CSA Federal Summit. “What we need to be thinking about is how do we use that $3.1 billion…to get us out of the infrastructure-as-a-service business and into the software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service business.”

For Tony Summerlin, senior strategic advisor at the FCC, money is not the critical factor. After a recent lift and shift of the Federal Communication Commission’s data center, a move of 60 of the 97 racks of servers and cutting the number of applications in half before the move, Summerlin said taking control and having great CIO leadership and support is crucial.

 “We did everything with no new money…we just cut,” he said. “Money has not improved anything -- process will.”

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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