health data (Supphachai Salaeman/Shutterstock.com)

'Elasticity' helps FDA move to cloud

Two years ago, the Food and Drug Administration began the process of moving its applications and services into a cloud environment.  Today, 10 percent of the agency's apps have migrated, and most new development takes place in the cloud, FDA CIO Todd Simpson told GCN after a panel at the July 19 Professional Services Council’s FedHealth Conference.

The legacy apps that have made the switch are the ServiceNow tool, which agency employees use for service requests and help-desk ticketing, and the FDA’s email system, which accounts for a large part of the 10 percent figure.

Simpson also said the FDA is halfway through the completion of a strategic plan to redesign the agency’s technology support systems.

“Cloud is a tool in the toolbox, and I use it to take care of business models, not just to be trendy,” Simpson said.  “I have set up a guidance board to determine what should be in the cloud or hybrid environments, and we have put a lot of effort into creating a project management office.”

A big challenge for Simpson is getting the 10 federated centers within the FDA to work together to achieve economies of scale.  Each of the centers has its own budget and autonomy to make decisions.

Simpson has found the best solution for innovation at the FDA is “elasticity,” giving his senior executives data on how high-performance computing  (HPC) and the cloud can improve their workflows, for example.

“You just need to show them the data and they will make the right decisions,” Simpson said of his colleagues. “We could decide at the end of the day to have three HPC environments and we would be able to manage it.”

The Federal Health Architecture initiative also focuses on bringing agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services together to solve common problems.  One of its projects is the Fast Healthcare Information Resource specification for exchanging health care information electronically.

“We are looking at health care standards for FHIR with all kinds of agencies as well as vendors, physicians and [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services],” FHA Director Gail Kalbfleisch said.

Kalbfleisch is also working on a pilot program to help federal agencies collaborate with states on drug registries to help combat problems like the opioid epidemic. The open source software solution, called CONNECT, uses nationwide health care exchange specifications that make it easier to link federal agencies and multiple statewide prescription exchanges.

Kalbfleisch urged contractors to continue working with FHA and other agencies to collaborate. “We are going to need our federal partners to pick up where the government can’t.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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