HHS becomes more enterprising

New leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services, the need to secure systems and the reality of tight budgets are breathing new life into plans to create enterprise systems that can work across the agency.

HHS traditionally has had a distributed culture, but Brian Burns, HHS deputy chief information officer, said the concerns about security and budgets are driving organizations toward centralized systems.

A few HHS organizations are still reluctant to accept the concept of enterprise systems, Burns said. "There are a couple of outliers out there," he said, but most of the organization has come around to the concept.

As organizations struggle with security requirements and determine how they are going to spend their information technology dollars, they are reassessing their view of enterprise systems.

"In order for us to continue to supply equal or better service with equal or even less staff, we have to automate and consolidate," Burns said last week following a presentation at Federal Sources Inc.'s annual Outlook conference.

The agency's new leadership, including HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, has made the issue more of a priority. "The new secretary is very interested in saving money in IT," Burns said. Therefore, there is an interest in having enterprise systems instead of individual, parochial systems. "There is management support at the very top."

Security is also spurring more enterprise developments, Burns said. The department has about 3,100 individual servers and 2,000 Web sites with about 8 million Web pages. "We need to do some consolidation there and streamline that approach," he said.

"If we streamline, we can reduce the vulnerabilities that we have out there" and do a more effective job of managing those vulnerabilities, he said.

HHS has tried to use successful pilots to generate support for enterprise systems. HHS let operating divisions decide their critical areas, develop a system, and let the functionality and success of those systems attract uses, Burns said.

"Nobody is going to believe when you say that you have a better mouse trap. If they see you're doing it, then they are more likely to buy in," he said.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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