Forman: management key to tech changes

The future of technology is signaling a shift in focus from proprietary systems to architecture, and the government needs to be ready for the change, the former e-government chief for the Office of Management and Budget said today.

Mark Forman outlined the grid or fabric concept, where technology is based on a framework using open-source, adaptive solutions. The key to making it work in the government is strong management, he said

"There's a change coming," said Forman, speaking at an event in Washington, D.C. sponsored by Hewlett-Packard Co. "Being an adaptive enterprise is as much about management as it is about technology."

Agencies are beginning to move away from using massive data centers to manage systems. Commoditization of technologies is allowing agencies to take standardized systems and open source options and link them to business processes, Forman said.

Agencies are replacing costly mainframes with adaptive solutions such as Intel Corp. processors and Linux operating systems, he said. The component then becomes cheaper, giving the government a lot of options and potentially saving a lot of money.

"You can see where the innovation is going, and it's all in infrastructure," Forman said. "This is about productivity. It's about results. And it's about cost."

Forman left his post as OMB's administrator for e-gov and information technology in August and took a job as the head of worldwide services for Cassatt Corp., a software company focused on autonomic computing. This concept enables systems within an enterprise to configure and fix themselves according to changes or failures.

Autonomic computing is designed to remove the need for a person to physically walk over to a system to find flaws. Autonomic systems rely on computing grids that find available power or resources, and brings them to the area where there was a failure, Forman said. For example, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, FBI systems were overwhelmed with tips flooding their systems, and officials had to manually search for excess servers. Autonomic computing would give management an overall view of what's available and allot the resources.

"There is a lot of excess capacity in data centers," he said. "When you want to take advantage of that capacity, you have to build in self-healing computing."

Forman said agencies have begun to take advantage of this fabric trend, although some -- such as the Defense Department -- are doing better than others. The federal enterprise architecture is providing a framework, and pushing agencies to think in terms of architecture. Through the reference models in the architecture, agencies can move away from building their own components and instead customize those available and share solutions across the government.

The key to making it work is setting a few performance measures to gauge cost and program results, Forman said. The president's management agenda has laid out that path for agencies with performance-based budgeting and the Program Assessment Rating Tool. Agencies should focus on business process change, he said.

"When you throw money or people at a program to get more performance -- if you don't re-engineer it -- people burn out," he said. "If you're going to get performance gains you have to look at IT change, process change and organization change, and how you fit those together."

For grid concepts to take hold, Forman said, other areas of government that need to change, such as the approach to acquisition,. Also, agencies should look outside themselves to other agencies during the IT capital planning process, seeking out opportunities for partnership, Forman said. Finally, there needs to be leadership on the civilian side of the government, perhaps from the General Services Administration, he said.

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