The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the first agency to be named a federal Center of Excellence by the White House, is well on its way to consolidating its data and call centers down to a handful, says a top General Services Administration official.
That’s a sign of success that the GSA hopes to see replicated in other agencies soon, said Anil Cheriyan, director of the GSA’s Technology Transformation Services, which oversees the Centers of Excellence program.
“Right now, we have two agencies going through the agencywide transformation. My hope is to get another three down the road this year and another three the next year, really showing momentum,” he said, speaking Monday at the 2019 GITEC Emerging Technology Conference in Annapolis, Md.
Federal Centers of Excellence Provide Valuable Experience
The USDA has already consolidated 38 data centers into two, and the numerous call centers scattered across the country will be consolidated into one by the end of July, Cheriyan says. In addition, the GSA and USDA hope to get the time to farm loan approval down from about 12 months to less than a day.
“That’s progress, and that’s something we’re hoping to achieve,” he says. “That whole client experience is about to change.”
GSA’s Centers of Excellence program creates centers within agencies that focus on modernization goals including cloud adoption, IT infrastructure optimization, customer experience, service delivery analytics and contact centers. The program provides agencies with consulting and IT engineering services to improve the way that they design services and interact with citizens.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is the other CoE agency; just like the USDA, it is expected to become a resource for other modernizing agencies.
“Establishing some modest sustainability is about creating core competencies,” Cheriyan says. “We’ll take some of the work we’ve done with USDA with client experience and call centers and put that more into practice.”
The USDA’s experiences with moving into the cloud will also be written up as playbooks that can be adapted for other agencies, he says.
Centers of Excellence Program Expands to Automation and Identity
The CoE program recently added two new areas of focus. One is the increased use of automation and robotic process automation with artificial intelligence, “an easier way of driving progress without having to reengineer all the systems,” says Cheriyan, who worked on a similar project when he was CIO of SunTrust Banks.
The other is identity, especially for citizens who have to log in to federal websites for information or services. “The fact that you have a Social Security number doesn’t mean anything anymore,” he says. “All the bad guys are using those numbers.”
Every single agency needs to come up with a better means of authenticating identity, he says. Login.gov, which gives citizens one login for multiple agencies, provides a “thin layer” of basic authentication for people attempting to communicate with the government online, he adds, but it’s not enough.
“Identity across all of government — IT calls it 'Everest,’” he says. “This is something that, if we can get it solved, would be significant.”
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