GSA steers toward a single IT architecture

GSA CIO Office

Armed with new leaders and commitment, the General Services Administration is moving to create an enterprise information technology architecture that will better support both the business functions of the agency and its mission to assist other agencies.

In the last six months, GSA has appointed a new chief information officer and deputy CIO, and now it has brought in a new chief technology officer to complete the movement toward a single IT vision for the entire agency.

"The CIO office here at GSA has had a strong policy approach, [but] what we needed the most [was] a strong design function," said Michael Carleton, CIO at the agency.

Split into three services — the Federal Supply Service, the Federal Technology Service and the Public Buildings Service — GSA has long gone in three directions in dealing with its internal technology. Then, two years ago, GSA signed the Seat Management contract to outsource its desktop and network hardware, software and support, with part of the end goal being a standard IT infrastructure across the agency.

But while putting the Seat Management deal into place, agency IT officials discovered that a plan for standardization must already exist before any agencywide implementation can occur. That realization drives the current effort.

"The concept of seat management is still solid for us, but our infrastructure is not standard; it is varied to a degree that makes seat management a challenge for us," Carleton said. "As we talk about seat, we have to think about standardization."

New chief technology officer Christopher Fornecker now heads the GSA architecture planning committee, whose members meet monthly with IT administrators from agency regions across the country. He brings an interest in architecture that started when he worked on the early stages of the U.S. Army's move toward digitization. But Fornecker said he also will be leaning on the institutional knowledge of the GSA CIO's staff, which has been in place for more than five years.

Fornecker, Carleton and deputy CIO Susan Chu intend to create a single enterprise architecture plan that will be based on the business needs of the agency.

One of the first tasks will be working with the agency to determine those needs, such as the decision to move last year to a single e-mail system for better internal communication. GSA is kicking off what officials call a "business architecture task." It aims to discover "where are the major IT innovations that we can plan and do as an enterprise system rather than building the same system three or four times," such as combining e-mail systems, Chu said. Contractors and staff members of the CIO's office will go out to all the GSA services and regions, first to determine the existing state of IT in the agency, and then to determine what is needed for a "to-be model."

All these moves will not only help the agency perform its mission, but also help it comply with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget in the form of the newly revised version of Circular A-130, which emphasizes the concept of an enterprise architecture, Carleton said.

The revised circular has been available in draft form for some time, so it should have come as no surprise when the final version focused on enterprise architecture, Sally Katzen, deputy director for management at OMB, said when the agency released it last month.

The CIO's office will hold the models developed at GSA, but there will be opportunities for both business and IT people throughout the agency to contribute to this and future versions, Carleton said. He touted GSA as a collaborative agency where much work is done by staff members stationed around the country, who often use cell phones and workgroup applications in conferences, he said.

GSA also is upgrading networks in the regions, providing field offices with Digital Subscriber Lines that represent a huge improvement from the 56 kilobits/sec dial-up connections they now use, Carleton said.

The agency's new architecture plan will continue those upgrades along a single agencywide vision, and one goal is to then develop applications that can be made available to GSA employees over the Internet "so they can take these systems and applications wherever they are," Carleton said.

What's Enterprise Architecture?

Enterprise architecture represents the existing and desired relationships among business and management processes and information technology. It includes the rules, standards and systems life-cycle information that an agency desires to most effectively create and maintain its IT portfolio. The architecture must also provide a strategy that will enable the agency to both support its current state and act as the road map for shifting to its target environment.

Source: Latest version of the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-130

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