Agencies setting priorities for 2012

Telework, cloud computing and cybersecurity will continue to be strong focus areas in fiscal year 2012 for the federal government in its effort to save money and increase efficiency.

As cost savings has become an overarching theme for the federal government, agencies will continue next fiscal year to assess their IT environments, specifically focusing on infrastructure, storage and security, and implementing process improvements to eliminate duplication, said Tim Larkins, senior consultant of market intelligence at immixGroup, who spoke at the immixGroup’s FY12 Civilian Budget Briefing on Oct. 20.

“Most CIOs have already accepted the fact that you can only consolidate so many data centers and you can only save so much money by replacing light bulbs,” Larkins said. “Meanwhile, data is growing at a rate of 65 [percent] to 70 percent a year, so how does government meet its storage and security needs and reconcile that with decreased budgets?”

Civilian agencies will be focusing specifically on increasing efficiency and lowering costs in  fiscal 2012, Larkins said, with telework, mobile commuting, cloud computing, virtualization and cybersecurity as key areas.

“Snowmageddon of 2009 and what I’ll deem the ‘Great Quake of 2011’ helped government learn an important lesson: Be prepared to meet an increased need in user demand of IT system agility resilience,” Larkins said.

For many agencies, meeting this demand begins with telework. Although telework is “impossible for a handful of subagencies, the government as a whole is waking up to the idea that telework isn’t simply a perk to attract new talent but a very viable asset that offers real return on investment,” Larkins said.

With growing use of mobile technologies thanks to the increase in telework, agencies have to assess the core of their information systems and understand how to arrange their layers of IT to meet the mobile demand. Slow-moving enterprise resource planning systems are now being replaced with easy-to-access Internet-based apps, allowing the desktop experience to become mobile.

Similar to Lego where one can pick and use individual pieces to build a bigger construct, cloud computing allows government agencies to select what application they need, how much storage they need and build their IT solutions how they see fit, Larkins said.

“The biggest benefit is that they only have to pay for what they use,” he added.

Software-as-a-Service and Infrastructure-as-a-Service models have gained some traction within the public and community clouds, Larkins said, and agencies such as the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget are hosting their websites and portals in the public cloud.

But despite the “enormous potential” for cost savings, some agencies approach cloud solutions with some level of trepidation because of the inherent security risks in technology. However, by embedding security into the enterprise architecture and implement continuous monitoring programs, agencies are saving money “because it’s much more cost effective to prevent a security breach than to recover from one,” Larkins pointed out.

“Lest, this approach to cybersecurity is allowing civilian agencies to safeguard mobile and cloud computing technologies while saving money,” he said.

Despite the progress made by federal agencies in cybersecurity, there are still areas for improvement. A recent GAO survey found that 24 large federal agencies lacked critical aspects of cybersecurity, including continuous monitoring and user identification and authorization, Larkins said.

“Of the 24 surveyed, not a single agency was found to have fully or effectively implemented agencywide cyber information security programs,” Larkins said. ”In other words: Federal government has a lot of ground to make up for to fully protect sensitive information and systems.”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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