Using Software as a Service allows the Defense Logistics Agency to run only 264 applications, down from 1,200, says Michelle Jacobs, Director of the DISA Liaison and Hosting Office.

Feb 14 2019

SaaS Streamlines Operations at DLA, State and Treasury

Agencies are using Software as a Service as a practical way to upgrade and optimize their technology.

To consolidate its data centers, the Defense Logistics Agency wants to host all of its ­applications in the cloud. Part of that strategy includes using Software as a Service where it can.

In 2017, DLA migrated 26,000 users to Microsoft Office 365 for email, collaboration and productivity tools, and completed a move to SharePoint online in 2018. In doing so, it eliminated duplicate instances of software running in-house.

“We were managing eight instances of Exchange in different regions, and we had four to six versions of SharePoint,” says Michelle Jacobs, director of the DISA Liaison and Hosting Office.

“Each field site implemented SharePoint differently. It met local needs, but some DLA organizations had top-tier IT services and others had basic serv­ices,” she adds. “Our goal is to give customers the best capabilities available across the agency by taking an enterprise approach.”

Federal agencies such as DLA, as well as the State and Treasury departments, are taking advantage of SaaS to streamline and standardize applications, but it’s also a quick and cost-effective way for agencies to modernize outdated technology.

“The main benefits are not having to pay for and support infrastructure and moving from a capital expense to an operating expense, and the ability to provision a product or service very quickly,” says IDC Analyst Frank Della Rosa.

SaaS Eases Complex Application Modernizations 

In addition, agencies don’t have to ­provide mobile access, because browser-based SaaS grants access anywhere. SaaS providers also give users a stream of new features. “That is a great benefit, because enhancing the functionality of an application deployed on-premises is a drawn-out process,” Della Rosa says.

Some SaaS offerings, such as contact management, are easier to adopt than others. But if agencies need to integrate that software with case management software, the resulting complexity may require a systems integrator, says Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights.

“The real issue is that as more government solutions are moved to SaaS, the easy stuff moves first. Then, a lot of choices need to be made if application programming interfaces need to be used to tie multiple systems together,” McCarthy says. 

“We saw government moving to hosted email or hosted SharePoint services several years ago. But they are grappling with moving more complex systems to the cloud.”

$50 million

The amount the Defense Logistics Agency has saved so far by consolidating apps, adopting SaaS, hosting ­applications in the cloud and closing data centers

Source: Defense Logistics Agency

DLA, which provides logistics support for military services worldwide, tackled the cloud migration issue through a software rationalization process, taking inventory of its applications, then consolidating them by eliminating redundancies and retiring legacy systems as apps moved to the cloud.

To manage the effort, DLA created the DISA Liaison and Hosting Office, which is focused on closing data centers and moving to the cloud. The office’s project managers work with DLA’s infrastructure, applications development and cybersecurity groups to assess each app for cloud readiness, Jacobs says.

The team analyzes the architectural design and determines if an app can be hosted in the cloud in its current form or needs to be refactored, and whether SaaS is an option. “We would prefer more SaaS versus a new hosting option. We do the analysis and decide what is best,” Jacobs says. 

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out which cloud model is right for your agency. 

Agencies Can Save Money by Migrating to SaaS

DLA has migrated some applications from internal data centers to Microsoft Azure. And in addition to Office 365 and SharePoint online, the agency has implemented Skype for Business for communications and will soon subscribe to OneDrive for storage. Microsoft built a specific version of Office 365 for the Defense Department’s higher security requirements. DLA implemented Exchange in phases by geographic location over a 10-month process.

“Office 365 was a complex undertaking,” Jacobs says. “We had to do testing to be smart about how much email data can be transferred at once so that nothing gets corrupted.”

Since 2013, the agency has saved money by consolidating 80 percent of its business software; it now runs 264 apps, down from 1,200

By not having to manage infrastructure and maintain software, the infrastructure group now has time to work with the app development team on migrating existing apps or developing new ones.

Michelle Jacobs, Director, DISA Liaison and Hosting Office
We would prefer more SaaS versus a new hosting option."

Michelle Jacobs Director, DISA Liaison and Hosting Office

“The development team doesn’t have expertise in databases or infrastructure and how to take advantage of a service provider’s infrastructure capabilities,” she says. 

“So instead of the mundane task of patching servers, our experts can advise the development team about the best infrastructure to run an application.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out how your agency can successfully migrate data to modern architectures. 

State Department Moves to Ease Cloud Complexity

The State Department has historically deployed a decentralized cloud model, but this led to its bureaus and offices adopting 120 different SaaS implementations, many with the same applications. In fact, the department has 21 separate contracts with one SaaS solution.

To better manage its SaaS deployments, State opened a new cloud office that centrally manages contracts to get better pricing and create baseline management and security controls.

“We want to take the disparate cloud activities and synchronize them,” says Brian Merrick, deputy director of the Cloud Program Management Office. “That way, business users who need SaaS have a shorter time to market and don’t have to worry about the IT bureaucracy.”

State uses Office 365 and Google’s G Suite for email and collaboration on the unclassified network; ServiceNow and Salesforce for case management; Salesforce for contact management; and Box for storing and sharing unstructured data.

The department uses multiple SaaS solutions to avoid vendor lock-in and because each solution provides different benefits. For example, most users have migrated to Office 365, but employees in countries with low bandwidth use G Suite.

State’s next goal is to integrate its SaaS offerings with other apps or data, so the department needs to ensure there is a single source of data, Merrick says.

“The next thing is to manage the data layer, and it takes awhile to mature into that,” he says. “For example, if we have an application that requires a form to fill out, we want to prepopulate those forms from source system data rather than require someone to duplicate data entry.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Discover how agencies can take advantage of CASBs. 

Treasury Department Builds Its Own SaaS

In the Treasury Department, the Bureau of the Fiscal Service has also embraced SaaS, but with a different wrinkle: The bureau essentially built its own SaaS offering with the help of Oracle.

Previously, its Administrative Resource Center, a shared-services provider, offered Oracle’s E-Business Suite to federal agency customers by hosting financial management software in its own data centers. But a decade ago, as interest in the agency’s services surged, Treasury’s ARC needed to beef up its own IT ­infrastructure to accommodate more agencies.

The bureau partnered with Oracle to deliver the software through a SaaS model. Oracle hosts its E-Business Suite in the Oracle Cloud and performs all the maintenance; ARC manages a standard software configuration and relationship with its agency customers, says Miller, of the Fiscal Service, which uses the SaaS solution internally.

Since then, ARC has doubled its financial management customers to 43 agencies, including most Treasury offices and bureaus and 28 outside agencies, including Housing and Urban Development and the National Archives and Records Administration

Customers can use the software themselves to process transactions or hire ARC to do that, as well as perform reconciliations and build financial reports, says Miller.

“We don’t have to worry about sizing of servers, load balancing, tuning databases and upgrading operating systems,” he says. “We can focus more on where we can provide value, which is financial management expertise and configuring and using the software in the best way to meet the needs of our agencies.”

ARC uses a standard software configuration, but makes improvements or revisions based on customers’ needs. ARC has also built interfaces to integrate the E-Business Suite with other agencies’ data sources and applications, such as payroll, grant management systems or third-party acquisition systems.

“A customer may have a unique need, so we might need to improve the solution, and when we do that, all of our current and future customers benefit from that,” Miller says.

Photography by Jonathan Timmes

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