A CIO aims for extreme outsourcing

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The CIO of a smallish federal agency is looking to outsource almost all of his commodity IT operations in the next few months in hopes of sharpening his agency's main mission of providing usable big data to its employees around the world.

"I want to be out of the IT business by July," Joe Paiva, CIO at the Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration told FCW in an interview.

That move, he said, shouldn't be as startling as it might sound. It's a matter of refocusing internal IT efforts and exporting more prosaic functions to outside vendors, he said, explaining that he's not really exiting the IT business so much as outsourcing networking and printing operations, as well as shifting management of end-user devices like cell phones and printers to contractors using outside providers.

Paiva told FCW that he is making outsourced commodity IT infrastructure a priority at ITA. Traditional federal agency approaches to IT networking can get stuck in "a trench warfare mentality, " he said, with all the responsibility for providing networking, devices and services placed squarely within the agency's "trench."

For ITA's nearly 2,000 employees, the mission is to make doing business overseas for U.S. companies easier and more efficient, and to enforce trade law and policy. It's not, Paiva stressed, to establish complex internal IT operations.

To accomplish its tasks, the agency takes in and analyzes data from agencies that gather pertinent information, including import information from Customs and Border Protection, population data from the Census Bureau. It also folds in data gathered by a network of trade promotion and policy professionals in more than 70 countries and 100 U.S. locations. "We take huge amounts of data and turn it into actionable information," Paiva said.

I want to be out of the IT business by July.

Paiva said he is moving to place that responsibility into more service-oriented hands, contracting with telecommunications carriers to provide, configure and manage the increasing number of devices, such as mobile phones and tablets. When a new ITA employee begins work, he said, not one ITA IT staffer will touch that device. The employee "will choose it in a carrier's portal and the carrier drop ships it with the parameters specified."

More specifically, ITA's core infrastructure as a service plans also aims to harness a big global services provider for long term evolution (LTE) wireless data and voice, ethernet/wireless LAN services, and end user devices including Windows and iOS tablets and phones.

Paiva has similar plans for printing. He said he is contracting for a separate printing services network with outside vendors. Under the plan, printing contractors will set up printers at the agency's offices, and will be paid by pages printed, relieving the agency of shouldering networking and maintenance for the equipment -- and of the associated costs. For security, printing contractors would draw ITA files to be printed from a secure print "DMZ" on ITA's side, he said. The printing service should be in place "as early as March" in ITA's headquarters at the Commerce Department's Washington offices.

Paiva is also implementing collaboration as a service from a provider for its Office 365 operations, including cloud-based email, video teleconferencing, chat, and instant messaging.

As the plans progress, Paiva said his agency intends to turn off its last locally hosted server next month. (More than 80 percent of ITA's servers are already with Amazon Web Services.) He hopes to issue a solicitation for a printing and networking bundle for a pilot program at about the same time.

Not for everybody

The ITA and the rest of the Commerce Department have been moving to make shared services a more substantial part of their operations.

Former Justice Department CIO Van Hitch applauded the move, saying the overall approach of commodity IT makes sense.

But he cautioned that such tactics may not be for every federal agency, depending on security and logistical concerns. "Security varies by agency," said Hitch, who now works as an advisor to federal clients and federal CIOs at Deloitte.

For instance, foreign workers accessing federal networks can be a sensitive topic. Some agencies, including ITA, employ a number of foreign workers in overseas offices. Hitch said that when he was at the Justice Department, "we didn't allow foreign nationals on our network.... Security is not to be taken lightly and it's risk-based."

Paiva, however, said he has taken appropriate security precautions, tapping his seven years of experience with the Department of Defense in senior networking infrastructure. "Security is done at the data management layer," he said, not at the services layer. "The data is made available to anyone in the organization, but they only get to see the data they're supposed to."

Ultimately, Hitch called ITA's move "a dramatic statement," and added that it's part of a larger shift by federal CIOs toward more informed strategic sourcing. He advised those looking to do similar outsourcing to get educated on service level agreements and security issues, and to make "a gradual transition, not all at once."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

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, 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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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