“This idea that government should write a 100-page solicitation that describes exactly what it wants? For us, it’s a bad approach,” says Ryan Hillard, an IT specialist and systems developer at SBA. “The beginning of a project is when you know the least about the problem you’re trying to solve.”
SBA uses native tools embedded in Microsoft Azure and other providers to check up on its apps and APIs, says Beau Houser, the SBA CISO.
“Leveraging cloud-native artificial intelligence and machine learning allows us to identify anomalies in near real time and take appropriate actions,” he adds.
NOAA Strives to Manage Legacy Apps for Far-Flung Users
NOAA works to regularly patch and update its applications for its employees, no matter where they work.
“We’ve had people in very remote offices, we have them in planes, we have them on ships — and they don’t always have the best connectivity,” says Cameron Shelton, director of the agency’s Services Delivery Division. “That’s been a challenge, getting updates out to those users.”
To ensure that employees have proper access, NOAA has pushed applications closer to the edge — by adopting G Suite, for example — and uses tools such as IBM’s BigFix and MaaS360 as well as Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager to patch other applications. And it retires legacy solutions when new ones are adopted.
Other agencies rely on virtualization to support legacy applications. “For the small number of legacy applications that are no longer compatible with our current desktop, but can’t be replaced, our preferred solution is desktop or application virtualization using Citrix XenApp, or something similar,” says Larry Grossman, acting director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Solution Delivery Service.
“This has worked well for us in the short term,” he says. “Over the long term, there is no substitute for replacing platforms that have reached the end of their life.”
Feds Shake Off Old Ways to Updating Apps
To keep both employees and citizens satisfied going forward, agencies must strive to keep up with constantly evolving expectations around applications, federal IT leaders say.
“NOAA’s workforce is increasingly mobile,” says Shelton. “We need to equip support staff with the necessary tools to reach remote locations. Real-time security precautions and countermeasures are imperative these days.”
The agency uses tools such as Dameware for mobile support. “The workforce is not going to become any less mobile,” says Shelton.
“We’ve had this mindset of, ‘Let’s bring the laptops in once a month to get them patched.’ We need to get out of that mindset.”
At the VA, Myklegard and Loehr are spearheading efforts to lead the agency’s technology away from legacy practices.
“As this wave of APIs is being exposed, developers are able to depend on the federal government the way they can depend on the commercial sector,” says Loehr.