Federal IT is poised to take a huge step into the future

A couple of developments in federal IT have me excited. The Federal IT Shared Services Strategy spells out a way that helps federal agencies to innovate without raising cost by adopting a shared approach to IT service delivery. Then came the Digital Government Strategy, which seeks to build a 21st-century digital government, creating an information-driven government accessible to employees and citizens anytime, on any device.

If agencies can implement the recommendations put forth in these plans, federal IT will take a huge step into the future. But, great as these plans are, I think federal IT can go even bigger and bolder. I’m talking about defining the next generation of e-government in a way that’s only now possible because of the cloud.

The evolution of e-government

Let me back up a little bit. Over a decade ago, when we were going through the dotcom boom, Mark Forman who was associate director of IT at the OMB helped formulate its e-government initiative. This was the first time that anyone looked at the overall federal IT picture. And they saw that they could innovate, save money and increase citizen participation. One idea was to create government-wide shared services for LOBs that could save the government a lot of money. Agencies actually contributed money for these services, some of which are still in development.

In my previous blog posts, I’ve talked about what individual agencies, departments or groups can do to reform their IT and innovate despite reduced budgets. But what about the entire federal government? Can the federal government capitalize on shared services and cloud? In other words, is the time right to realize the original promise of e-government?

A government-wide cloud?

Last year, we saw the OMB announce its Cloud First policy, requiring agencies to go with a cloud option whenever a secure, reliable and cost-effective one existed. These efforts will certainly help with the OMB’s goals for data center consolidation.

But why create a cloud for Homeland Security and a cloud for Treasury? For true savings on data center consolidation, why not consolidate at a government-wide level? For example, the Census Bureau needs its horsepower only when the census is going on. Why can’t they share it with other agencies when it’s not in use, perhaps for a fee?

A true shared services vision

As with the government’s cloud strategy, the new shared services strategy has the potential to really transform federal IT if it’s implemented government wide. Let’s look at common federal processes such as acquisition. GSA (the U.S. General Services Administration) helps with acquisition. But the whole process around acquisition (planning, management of the RFP, etc.) should be shared as a service.

Another area that is ripe for government-wide shared services is technology. For instance, why should each agency have its own infrastructure for testing? Wouldn’t it be simpler and more cost-effective if there was government-wide testing as a service (TaaS)? That way, when you’re ready, it’s easy to provision the environment automatically, you give them your application, they could stage it in a secure environment and you could get those test results back in a timely fashion. Instead of every agency having its own client image, why not standardize across the federal space? You could have different ones for civilian agencies, defense and intelligence, but you could still go a long way to getting rid of redundancies. At HP, we offer a center of excellence for Testing, as well as a test governance portal and Testing as a Service (TAAS) to make it extremely easy, cost effective.

Shared services and data center consolidation have brought huge benefits to commercial enterprises. I’m hoping federal IT can realize the same gains.

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Eric Melton

Until funding is shared, it’s very difficult to share plans and infrastructure. It’s also a challenge to realistically show the savings every agency is looking to get the credit for when doing joint projects.

Veronica Wendt

I see so much possibility in your proposals. I also believe the window of opportunity for change in government, with declining or flat budgets, is better than ever. If there is one program that will make or break this concept, it is FEDRAMP, with its standardized approach to security requirements in the cloud.

On the flip side, Eric makes a great point about following the money. Additionally, while innovation and efficiencies should be enough of an incentive to change the way government does business, it is not enough of an incentive to complete the complex work required to move from an “as is” environment to something completely different and “perhaps” far better.

Has anyone had success regarding shared services, particularly in a cloud environment? Please share.