As a provider of IT goods and services to agencies across the government, the General Services Administration in recent years has focused on, as they say, eating its own dog food. For instance, to encourage telework, the agency set its own goal of shifting 50 percent of its employees to telework by 2010.
For CIO Casey Coleman, the agency’s desire to be an IT leader means her job hinges on “innovation and supporting the 21st-century workforce with the tools and the technologies that allow us to attract, retain and keep motivated the best and the brightest.”
But Coleman’s day-to-day hours are also spent on behind-the-scenes work typical of any large federal CIO organization. Of note for her? The efforts during this past year to consolidate the agency’s IT infrastructure, which has generated cost efficiencies and made how GSA spends taxpayers’ dollars more transparent. “I think that’s good for a government initiative.”
FedTech Editor in Chief Lee Copeland spoke with Coleman about how GSA plans to continue moving forward on telework, green IT and other initiatives.
FedTech: Innovation is a big goal across all agencies. What’s your office doing to meet some of those goals?
Coleman: One area of GSA innovation leadership is with our workforce and our telework program. We view telework as key for a number of reasons. First of all, to recruit and retain the best talent — to really put together a 21st-century workforce — we think telework is imperative. It also has benefits such as reducing congestion, dependence on foreign oil and pollution. It’s just a general win-win for employees and for the federal government.
Now more than 30 percent of our eligible employees are teleworking, up from around 18 percent a little over a year ago. My office supports and provides the infrastructure for a mobile and remote workforce with tools such as remote access, security, collaboration tools such as instant messaging, and collaborative workplaces via teleconferencing that allow people to stay connected and get their work done even if they’re not all in the same room.
Right now, our employees telework one day or two days per week, although they may not be working the same day every week. We give people latitude to schedule their telework days around meetings and other business priorities. Actually, the GSA CIO’s Office is more than 50 percent teleworking. We are a little ahead of the agency’s numbers at this point.
FedTech: Why is the IT team ahead? Is it because there are so many remote management tools that make it easier for the IT staff to work remotely?
Coleman: The IT staff probably has a little bit more familiarity with those tools and a little bit longer experience in using them, so they may have less of a learning curve. Also, it’s because we are so geographically distributed, and because we have made a real conscious effort to engage the right talent, the right skill sets for the right projects. We’re really trying to be a showcase for how telework can work for the rest of the agency.
Named GSA's first female CIO in September 2007, managing GSA's
$500 million IT program, including strategic planning, policy, capital planning, systems development, information security, enterprise architecture and e-government
Served as CIO for both the GSA's
Federal Acquisition ServiceÂ and the
GSA Federal Technology Service
Developed and launched the USA Services governmentwide citizen customer-service program
Spent several years at Lockheed Martin in software and systems engineering, developing onboard command and control systems employed during the Gulf War
Served for a year as a Congressional Legislative Fellow
Holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Texas A&M University
and a master's in business administration and finance from the University of Texas at Arlington
FedTech: Do you see the number of days that GSA employees telework increasing over time?
Coleman: People do have the option of working out an arrangement with their supervisor to telework more than one day a week, and I believe we’ll see more do so over time. I think it’s not just a technology change, but also a culture change — of people becoming accustomed to working in this virtual work environment.
FedTech: What kind of cultural changes need to occur?
Coleman: Part of it is using collaboration and instant messaging and virtual workplaces to edit documents jointly. People should become comfortable with those teleworking tools and with the idea that the process can be just as effective and convenient as working face to face.
FedTech: What needs to happen from a technology perspective to increase teleworking at GSA to 50 percent, which is the government goal?
Coleman: Primarily, we need to make sure that our infrastructure is robust enough to scale. We’re looking at our network to make sure we’ve got enough bandwidth in place, especially for remote field offices and small offices. We’re also looking at beefing up our videoconferencing capabilities. Right now, our videoconferencing sessions are scheduled well in advance, and we’d like to see that as more of an ad hoc, day-to-day business tool.
FedTech: Any ideas on what things you may need to do from a technology standpoint to get to where it really is an ad hoc service, where you can just say, “Let’s have a videoconference,” and pull it off on short notice without a hitch?
Coleman: We’re looking into what that takes. I think it’s probably going to take more bandwidth, some training on the part of individual users and technologies such as Voice over IP, which allows for videoconferencing from the desktop. We’re doing the analysis to see if there’s a business case justification there.
FedTech: Beyond telework, what other things are you planning to do around green initiatives?
Coleman: GSA is doing a great deal in this area. For example, GSA has undergone an IT infrastructure consolidation. In 2006, we consolidated 39 IT support contracts and 15 different help desks into one unified program run out of the GSA CIO’s Office. That is a nationwide — actually a global — operation, called GITGO, for GSA Infrastructure Technology Global Operation. We support our users across the globe with this single program.
As a consequence of doing the IT consolidation, we really got a handle on the technology assets owned by the agency. By understanding what we had, we were able to consolidate, optimize and shut down hundreds of servers.
We’re moving away from individual printers and toward shared, network multifunction devices that print, copy, fax and scan, and that support dozens of users with the same or better printing capacity.
We’ve also done a local area network consolidation, cutting 50 LANs to approximately 15, thereby reducing the heating, cooling and energy consumption needed to run all those devices.
FedTech: It sounds as though your office is really thinking a lot about energy consumption.
Coleman: We’re also implementing power management features and power consumption monitoring on all our individual user workstations. We expect to save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in energy consumption, just with workstation management.
Two things are involved: power management and power monitoring. Power management means implementing settings so that when a computer, printer or monitor is left idle for a certain period of time — and you can set the threshold — it either goes into hibernation or powers off. You can choose the length of time you want to wait before implementing power-down or power reduction, and you can choose the aggressiveness with which you want to manage that power consumption. For example, if at 6 p.m. a device is unused for another 30 minutes, we put it into hibernate mode.
My staff has estimated that in the headquarters building alone, we can save more than $100,000 a year on energy consumption by using power management on workstations.
FedTech: Are you implementing new tools or using pre-existing utilities?
Coleman: The workstations have newer versions of Microsoft Windows XP, with power-management settings that can be implemented. There are also third-party products that allow you to precisely calculate and manage savings. The GSA Federal Acquisition Service’s SmartBUY program recently created a vehicle for power management and power monitoring.
FedTech: Do you also realize cost savings through employees who are freed up from other infrastructure tasks once you’ve consolidated?
Coleman: Absolutely. We’ve created, for example, a virtual team of members from around the country so that if the work in one regional area increases and another decreases, they can connect virtually and help address concerns in a different region. That allows us to manage work priorities on a larger scale and to make much more efficient use of our IT talent.
FedTech: With so many people working remotely, how does that affect what you’re doing from a security standpoint?
Coleman: It’s a big challenge because you want to balance the need for employee productivity and access to their work tools with security. Security can’t be the only consideration, although it’s a paramount consideration. We employ a layered security approach. Of course, we have the standard intrusion detection and firewall system, antispam, spyware, filtering and monitoring software.
We’re encrypting all of our workstations, and we have implemented many of the provisions of the Federal Desktop Core Configuration, or FDCC. Whereas in the past users had eight-character passwords that were reset every 90 days, they now have 12-character passwords that are reset every 60 days. Another setting under FDCC is that individual users no longer have administrative rights to modify the machine, install software and make registry changes.
FedTech: Employees everywhere — in government and industry — want to take advantage of Web 2.0 tools that are not centralized and not brought into the organization by the IT department. How are you dealing with this at GSA?
Coleman: I think Web 2.0 is huge for several reasons. First, it’s really important for knowledge transfer and for knowledge management. Many of our seasoned employees may be deciding to retire, and that institutional knowledge might leave with them unless we capture it in tools such as wikis, blogs and other Web 2.0 collaboration mediums.
We also think it’s important as a way to encourage communities of interest. GSA has such a broad portfolio of responsibilities that things such as the environmental initiative engage people from every part of the agency. We look at Web 2.0 as a way to build that informal network, especially since people are spread out across the country and working remotely. We think there’s a huge business value for Web 2.0.
I have an internal GSA blog for my staff, on which I publish information for the CIO team. I’m anticipating starting a public blog soon. GSA has an external blog from the Citizen Services and Communications Office called GovGab.
FedTech: What are some of the goals behind your communications on the internal blog?
Coleman: Three things: One is to share work-related information, such as staff meeting notes. I also share information about technology, so as I hear things that are promising, I’ll pass that along. And, one of the most important things I’ve tried to do is recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of the team. Finally, I really use the blog as a forum to thank and appreciate people who’ve done great work that might not be as widely appreciated as it ought to be.