While it seems to be a given that budgets will tighten in 2009, that won’t stop agencies from pursuing important IT projects. CIOs and industry analysts say agencies will surely continue down two technology paths that are recession-proof: consolidation and security.
“You will see a relentless call for operational efficiency in IT,” says David McClure, a Gartner managing vice president who specializes in government. “With all indications showing that we will go through difficult budget environments, spending will be put under tremendous scrutiny, so it’s an opportunity to push efficiency.”
And despite the fickle economy, agencies will continue to spend on IT security, McClure says. “Security requires constant investment and updating because threats constantly change.”
Other technology efforts that agencies will tackle in 2009 are unified communications, mobility and continuity of operations planning, and web programs. Plus, green IT will be an underlying or complementary theme to many federal tech initiatives.
CONSOLIDATE AND COLLABORATE:
As agencies continue to reduce servers and data centers within agencies and across them, the term C2 may well take on a new meaning that has nothing to do with the battlefield. NLRB CIO Richard Westfield says his agency's efforts to collapse legal case management systems agencywide make sense because they will let employees in regional offices and headquarters access and share information more easily.
TREND 1: Consolidation
When optimizing IT infrastructure, CIOs examine their complete systems environment to discover better ways to utilize technology and cut costs. The ensuing efforts include consolidating systems, improving business processes and deploying server virtualization. “It’s about agencies trying to get a handle on what they have, what works, what doesn’t work and how they can make it work better under budget constraints,” says Input analyst John Slye.
Federal CIOs say infrastructure optimization is their number one priority. For example, the National Labor Relations Board is consolidating its eight e-mail servers down to one clustered configuration and reducing its 55 regional file and print servers to two network attached storage devices at its hosting center. NLRB has begun using server virtualization to consolidate servers, automate its test and development environments, and reduce hardware and support costs. The board also is consolidating 20 database servers that support multiple legal case-tracking systems into a single enterprise system that will support cradle-to-grave case processing, says NLRB CIO Richard Westfield.
Elsewhere, the Labor Department has begun consolidating nine networks to one wide area network, and the Agriculture Department will continue collapsing 121 network hosting locations at five main data centers and merging two fragmented security operations into one centralized assurance center.
Other agencies plan to consolidate by improving business processes. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will integrate its e-mail and document management system with Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration tools to create an electronic work flow that replaces the slow paper approval processes. “We currently have standalone systems that were not necessarily built and deployed with one another in mind,” says Deputy CIO Thomas Boyce.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis has a comparable initiative under way to introduce work flow efficiency, says CIO Brian Callahan. In recent years, sharing services (such as financial or human resources applications) among agencies has grown increasingly popular and will continue to gain steam in 2009, Slye says. Rather than build duplicate systems, agencies can save time and money by turning to other government agencies or outside contractors for services.
TREND 2: Enterprise Security
THE SECURITY ONION:
With FDCC and TIC, taking a layered and enterprise approach to IT security is a must, points out IDC Government Insight’s Shawn McCarthy. At BEA, one option involves segmenting the agency’s network using virtual LANs to create dedicated network locations for specified groups of users, CIO Brian Callahan says. “To further protect our data assets, we will provide
different layers within our general network. It’s building forts
inside of forts,” he says.
Agencies have long pursued a layered security strategy that includes firewalls, intrusion detection, content filtering and antispam devices on the network, as well as antivirus software on computers. CIOs say they will continue to make security enhancements in 2009.
At the Farm Credit Administration, CIO Doug Valcour says his team will focus on improving internal security and upgrading security software that monitors internal networks to ensure employees don’t try to hack into applications or tap data to which they shouldn’t have access.
USDA will install network access control devices on its network. The technology enforces end-point security and determines the appropriate level of access when users connect their computers to the network. During authentication, an accompanying NAC application will evaluate each machine to make sure it’s compliant with Agriculture security policies, and when one is not, the user will be redirected to a quarantined part of the network. Once in this safe zone, users can download required patches and antivirus definitions so that they can regain full network access.
Gartner’s McClure also predicts that many agencies will consider website scanning technology to alert IT when sensitive or private information is posted to their sites. Further, adds Shawn McCarthy, director of research for government vendor programs at IDC Government Insights, agencies will continue to invest in tools to help them encrypt data, both on computers and in data centers.
By unifying communications and providing more IP options, agencies hope to gain productivity — doing more with the same or less funding, feds and industry analysts say. “It helps bring together employees
and facilitates communication and collaboration,” says Doug
Valcour, CIO for the Farm Credit Administration.
TREND 3: Unified Communications and Collaboration
Numerous agencies plan to invest in unified communications (which includes Voice over IP, instant messaging and videoconferencing) and collaboration tools to boost worker productivity.
The Farm Credit Administration already provides users with the ability to check whether colleagues are online, and if so, instant message, call, hold videoconferences and edit documents together, all from their own machines using Microsoft Office Communicator. The agency next will upgrade its enterprise-class videoconferencing technology, says Valcour, and is purchasing 50-inch high-definition TVs to let employees see one another as they conference.
Similarly, Agriculture will deploy a multitiered unified communications system using Video over IP, which will bring telepresence to major office locations so staff members can hold meetings without having to travel. This investment will help reduce the department’s travel budget by $40 million annually and also cut down on its carbon footprint, USDA CIO Charles Christopherson says. For small locations, the department will buy tabletop videoconferencing units to host videoconferences, he says.
USDA is also looking to deploy Voice over IP, which will reduce the agency’s phone bills and provide employees with unified messaging capabilities, such as checking voice mail over e-mail, a helpful feature for employees who work remotely, says Christopherson. “It not only cuts costs from travel expenses, but video and voice over IP data lines boost productivity and the ability to telework,” he says.
Thin clients will make
inroads, says USDA CIO Charles Christopherson. They make sense for government, he says, because they are
affordable, use less
electricity and aid in COOP.
TREND 4: Mobility and Continuity of Operations
Mobile devices, remote connectivity and continuity of operations may seem unrelated on the surface, but they are closely aligned. That’s because mobile devices, such as notebook computers, let employees telework, which the government encourages because it’s environmentally friendly and because it helps agencies save on office space and energy costs. Mobile devices not only provide remote access to applications but also support COOP; if disaster strikes, employees can log on to their agency’s network from home or from backup offices, maintain contact and continue to work, analysts say.
In fact, IDC’s McCarthy predicts that in 2009 agencies will conduct massive computer upgrades (including buying new notebooks) for three reasons: to better meet the FDCC security mandate, to meet green IT goals because new computers consume less energy and to improve COOP planning. Specifically, agencies will invest in more notebook computers because they let employees work remotely in emergency situations, he says.
“For a few years, agencies have made sure their applications are available and mirrored in data centers — all the things that are necessary on the back end,” McCarthy says. “But continuity doesn’t exist if government employees don’t have access in multiple locations. If an office is wiped out by a hurricane, earthquake or terrorist attack, employees need a way to connect.”
Next year, for just this reason, USDA will continue to standardize on notebooks and on thin clients. Christopherson requires that every new application the department purchases or builds supports mobile technology and a thin-client architecture, which lets users remotely access applications that are stored in data centers.
Agencies will continue to push information out to ever-more portable devices. "It's cumbersome for employees to have to fire up their computers if they're offsite," points out NRC Deputy CIO Thomas Boyce when talking about his agency's plan to provide more users with BlackBerrys. About 300 have
TREND 5: Online Video and Web Capabilities
The explosion of new web technologies offers agencies new ways to support online services and improve information access. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for example, plans to stream more online video content and improve its site’s search capabilities in 2009.
Two years ago, the agency hired out to broadcast live webcasts of public hearings and has begun making some of its video archives available online. The commission now wants to increase its online video presence and essentially make every public or appropriate courtroom hearing available online as a video archive, Boyce says.
“We want to make sure people can come to our website the next day and search the videos,” adds Boyce, who is exploring whether to host videos on his agency’s own servers or continue to use outside hosting.
On a related note, the commission’s IT department wants to improve its site’s search engine to make it easier to find public information, including videos, minutes and transcripts of meetings.
The reasoning behind NRC’s efforts should resonate with other agencies, which all have a public mission: “One of our charges as a public regulatory commission is to make as much documentation available as soon as we can, so interested parties who can’t make it to our hearings can go to our website and search across all our systems for what they’re looking for.”