Management

How the speed of technological change can be an opportunity

Internet of Things_man with globe and dollars

AT&T's Chris Smith argues that mobile, cloud computing and the Internet of Things have untapped potential for agencies able to embrace them.

It isn't surprising that cloud, mobility and cybersecurity will be front and center federal issues for the next 18 months, but the speed with which those technologies are developing and their increasingly significant impact for agency management could present opportunities for historic change, according to a former federal CIO who is now AT&T's vice president of technology.

Chris Smith, who pioneered agency-wide cloud applications while at the Agriculture Department, said mobile capabilities in particular have the potential to drastically alter the federal landscape.

"Mobility is on a tear. Day in and day out, it's making history,” Smith said in an interview with FCW. “Think of only 10 years ago, federal agencies were struggling with basic connectivity issues. I've watched the shift in government. Back in the 1990s we were dealing with second-generation cellular service. Now it's full [wireless device and application] immersion."

That immersion, coupled with increasingly efficient cloud applications, can mean more built-in operational efficiencies for federal agencies looking to trim costs. Cloud applications, he said, mean agencies do not have to support as much costly IT infrastructure, for instance.

But agencies still must figure out the right balance of cloud and private infrastructure they need.

Machine-to-machine capabilities -- popularly known as the Internet of Things -- also have potential to bring both operational efficiency and savings for federal operations.

Customs and Border Protection and the Forest Service, both with fleets of thousands of vehicles, could use IP-based networking to keep track of mileage, maintenance and scheduling, for instance. Agencies that track things like food and supplies, including USAID and FEMA, could also use the technology to better control inventories and keep down costs.

Smith, who moved to AT&T Government Systems from Accenture in November, said federal agencies are for the most part adapting well to the quick changes technology is bringing.

The biggest issue they will have to confront as technology rolls relentlessly forward, he said, is support of legacy networks.

As much as 80 to 90 percent of federal agencies' IT budgets are spent on legacy systems, Smith said. "That needs to be down to about 60 percent. Forty percent should go to new capabilities." The heavier overhead costs, he said, can mean an agency isn't moving forward technologically and could be saddled with even more legacy operations.

Smith contends that federal agencies should try to stretch themselves technologically, even in the face of stagnant budgets.

"You can't hunker down with a bunker-like mentality with tight budgets," he said. That mindset can lead to missed opportunities. While at USDA, Smith pioneered federal agencies' use of the cloud, migrating 120,000 USDA employees to cloud applications. "Government has the opportunity to lead," he insisted.

AT&T Government Systems has been bolstering its public sector team over the past year. The AT&T division has been led by Kay Kapoor since February 2013, when she moved over from Accenture. On Jan. 21, former General Services Administration CIO Casey Coleman came on as client executive vice president. A few days later, Michael Leff, formerly a managing director at Accenture, was named a vice president. Smith had been U.S. federal chief technology and innovation officer at Accenture since 2012, after he retired from USDA.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group