It's all about services, not systems, Evans says

The Office of Management and Budget wants agencies to start talking about services and stop talking about systems when they develop programs using technology.

The Chief Information Officers Council is working with OMB on making this shift, Karen Evans, the government’s administrator for information technology and e-government, said yesterday.

“We want to move away from the concept of what the technology will do and why we are procuring the system,” she said during a conference on software  as a service in Washington sponsored by the Software Information Industry Association, Input and the IT Association of America. “We are concerned about the outcome and whether the information is secure. It all comes down to services.”

Evans pointed to the Defense Department’s Global Information Grid and network-centric warfare programs as examples of an agency buying services and not focused on technology.

“The council is moving into a service-oriented arena,” she said. “We want agencies to reuse service components. This may need more clarification, but there is no reason not to do it.”

The move to focus on services also includes using software-as-a-service providers, Evans added. Software as a service is a concept that focuses on a private-sector vendor providing a platform and application that many different companies or agencies use. The application can be modified to meet their needs, but the platform remains the same. Users also can buy it through a subscription or by a per-use model.

OMB addressed agency questions about software reuse and software as a service in its fiscal 2007 Federal Information Security Management Act guidance, published in July.

The guidance said these contractor services must meet FISMA requirements and other policies and laws, but agencies are encouraged to use market-driven solutions that could result in cost savings and performance improvements.

Evans said the National Institute of Standards and Technology also has modified its security guidance to address software-as-a-service requirements.

OMB will check on which agencies are reusing services, applications or software code through the Core.gov Web site, Evans said. 

“Agencies need to consider the total cost of ownership when deciding on how they buy services,” Evans said. “We are not the best at procuring software and not the best at implementing large programs, so using software as a service may make sense.”

She added that agencies cannot continue to maintain all their systems or develop systems for new requirements and that is why a services-oriented model is an important option.

The other area where software as a service could help agencies is in dealing with surge capacity, Evans said.

Currently, many agencies buy enough capability for a portal or system for the highest projected usage even though most of the time the usage is half that.

“We have to enter into an agreement with vendors to deal with surge capacity,” Evans said. “We need the contract to be flexible and that is where performance-based contracting can help.”

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