FITARA 8.0 – No News is Good News

In place since 2014, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) has aimed to provide guidance and checkpoints for agencies' modernization efforts. Over the years, the compliance status of the agencies has had its ups and downs.

The latest report card, issued in June 2019 showed fairly steady performance when it comes to meeting FITARA goals and mandates. This 8.0 report card was the first to include a cybersecurity score that focused on FISMA (Federal Information Security Modernization Act) compliance. This report also took out the score for Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) as the majority of agencies are holding steady on that score and/or it is complicated by technology interdependencies.

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Department Spotlight: Department of Education

It's back to school time, so we thought it only fitting to take a look at the Department of Education (ED) to get a sense of what is on their "syllabus" for the next government fiscal year. The stated mission of the Department is to "promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access." It is a fairly new cabinet-level agency established in 1980. In addition to providing federal support and coordination to the states, the agency is responsible for administering loans and grants for higher education.

A current focus for the Department is modernization. A recent GAO report looked at the ten most critical updates needed in government. ED had one system on the list that was relying on COBOL programming language, a language that is not used or taught anymore, and those who do know it are retiring from the workforce.

Beyond this obvious and critical modernization need, the Department is looking at many other modernization initiatives, including updating the federal student loan process to streamline and simplify applications. Similarly, ED is actively investigating ways that modernized loan systems can reduce and even stop fraud involved in loan applications.

For people working with the Department of Education, there are several conferences and events in the coming months that address the education sector directly as well as guide modernization more generally.

  • Public Sector Innovation Summit (October 2, 2019; Arlington, VA) - This event brings together IT leaders from government and industry to discuss best practices, opportunities, and key trends in the government technology space. Additional focus areas include efficiently moving to the cloud, transforming IT to modernize government, innovating in a risk-averse culture, and much more.
  • EDUCAUSE Annual Conference (October 14-17, 2019; Chicago, IL) - Focused on the higher ed IT market, professionals and technology providers from around the world will come together to share ideas, grow professionally, and discover solutions to today's challenges. Topics include managing and reducing information technology risk, navigating change, transforming the student experience, and creating a culture of data-informed decision-making.
  • P3 Higher Education Summit (October 24-25, 2019; San Diego, CA) -- Public-private partnerships (P3s) are delivering essential infrastructure on campuses across the country. University representatives and industry leaders will discuss the latest modes of campus infrastructure delivery. The agenda will focus on P3 education, financing, procurement, policy, and networking.
  • Blockchain Expo North America (November 13-14; Santa Clara, CA) - This event will include a series of expert keynotes, interactive panel discussions and solution-based case studies exploring the key industries that are set to be disrupted the most by this new technology, including financial services, government, and education.

Let us know what other events could benefit people working at the federal level of education. Share your thoughts in the comments.

Answering the Call for Service: Customer Service Evolution in Government

Improving citizen experience continues to be a huge priority of agencies as part of their digital modernization. In fact, one survey found that more than half of government employees said there was a gap between the customer service their agency provides and what they experience in the private sector. While creating self-service portals is a big part of modernization, contact centers will continue to play a huge role in how the government interacts with citizens.

Contact centers may be more traditionally or commonly known as call centers. But this change in vocabulary is more than just semantics. Today's centers extend well beyond contact over the phone. To provide modern customer service, contact centers need to encompass online queries via email, live chats, social media, and in-person visits, in addition to phone calls. The response people get over these multiple mediums needs to be consistent and requires an overarching strategy and message that is understood by all representatives regardless of how they interact with citizens.

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An Agile Modernization

As government agencies look to respond to modernization calls from the executive branch as well as citizens at large, agile and DevOps practices are being employed to help speed time to "market" with new applications. A report issued in early 2019 found that sixty-nine percent of respondents said that their organizations are piloting agile, if not partially or fully adopting it. But, the same report also saw a significant percentage of respondents say that agile met their expectations "less than expected" and "much less than expected." So, if agile is seeing an uptick in use, why is it not meeting expectations?

The issue may lie heavily in training and understanding. Agile is not just a new process; it's a new mindset. It requires a new organizational structure that is a departure from the traditional command and control hierarchy of government. Agile teams are relatively flat with everyone holding interconnected and equally important roles. There's not only a logistical change that needs to happen in terms of org charts and structures, but also a cultural shift to a collaboration-driven rather than command-driven environment.

To begin really seeing the benefits of adaptability, speed, and cost efficiencies agile promises, people need to be trained not only on the process but on the softer skills of communication and collaboration that power the process. We've pulled together a collection of upcoming events that may help. Continue reading

The Next Step in Data Center Consolidation

Data center consolidation has been a mandated goal in the federal government for a number of years. The introduction of cloud, virtualization, and shared services means the government can run more efficiently with less hardware that no longer requires huge, physical servers to sit in buildings. Many of which were built for the sole purpose of housing servers. Consolidation saves money on technology, the support of that technology and also reduces agency real estate footprints and needs. While agencies have made some strides, the OMB sees the progress to date as going after low hanging fruit and is now challenging agencies to think bigger.

According to a drafted policy issued in November, OMB stated, "Agencies have seen little real savings from the consolidation of non-tiered facilities, small server closets, telecom closets, individual print and file servers, and single computers acting as servers." The push now should be in moving to the cloud and shared services, and looking to commercial third parties to host government data.

More than moving servers and workloads, data center consolidation relies on changing the way agencies manage data. The Data Accountability and Transparency Act was enacted to make information on government spending more transparent. Doing so requires agencies to agree to and implement data standards so that information can be shared across government and openly with the public. This implementation of standards has been a stumbling block for compliance. Continue reading