Air Traffic Organization charts opportunity in cloud computing, social media

The FAA's Air Traffic Organization is exploring using cloud computing for data centers, asset management and virtualization, according to CIO Steve Cooper.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Organization is looking for opportunities to improve efficiency and reduce costs by using cloud computing, social media and other innovative technologies, Chief Information Officer Steve Cooper said today.

A private, government-only cloud might be suitable for agency data center consolidation, asset management. virtualization and cybersecurity, Cooper said in a speech to industry members sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council.

“We want to pilot cloud computing capabilities,” Cooper said. “I have a hunch there is a lot of capability available.”

One area in which a cloud might be useful is in providing a virtual production environment that simulates the air traffic organization’s existing production environment, which is spread out among a number of facilities. A virtual environment could be used for development and testing of new software solutions, Cooper said.


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Cooper said he also is interested in e-mail cloud applications and is watching the General Services Administration's lead on that application.

The Air Traffic Organization also is exploring pilot projects for social media, which may involve Web sites offering two-way interaction between the organization and private pilots, airport officials, the flying public and other stakeholders, Cooper said.

Cooper said the social media project ideas are still being developed and involve some sensitivity, especially when using safety and accident data. In general, the social media effort will involve reaching out to pilots, passengers and others affected by the organization’s activities and determining how to meet their needs better, he said.

”I’m intrigued by the idea of using social media to interact with stakeholders,” Cooper said.

To improve transparency and also generate revenue, the organization also is looking at ways to sell its own data, Cooper said. “The ATO produces information, and a lot of it is gobbled up and resold,” Cooper said. “FAA and ATO have the legal authority to sell the data.”

In the coming years, the ATO's information technology division is undergoing a strategic change to focus less on infrastructure and more on solution development and becoming a trusted adviser to support the agency’s mission, Cooper said.

Currently, about 80 percent of the air traffic IT office’s workload is in managing IT infrastructure for the agency and 20 percent is in managing software, he said.

By 2013, he hopes that 20 percent will be devoted to infrastructure; 40 percent to solution delivery, including applications, Web solutions and information delivery; and 40 percent for a trusted advisory role in the agency’s mission, Cooper said.

“We want a seat at the business table,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cooper said he is looking for ideas on reducing administrative costs at the agency. For Desktop Tier 1 support, the air traffic IT’s division’s costs run 10 percent to 18 percent higher than the average in the public sector, he said.

Cooper said the higher costs are likely attributable to the fact that the IT support must cover more than 1,000 locations nationwide, including many in isolated areas, and also to a higher-than-average ratio of service personnel in the IT division. Greater use of virtualization and mobile devices may help reduce those costs, he said.

Cooper encouraged industry members to contribute their innovative ideas to address the agency’s challenges, which he said can be done in response to current and upcoming requests for information published by his office. He cautioned the audience members that they must follow all federal procurement rules and follow official channels to seek business for their companies.

“Use white papers,” Cooper said. “Do not label anything as a proposal.”

Cooper, who joined the ATO in 2009, previously was a CIO at the American Red Cross and at the Homeland Security Department.

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