The U.S. Government receives its share of jabs for being a belated adopter of technology. Federal officials have taken many steps — and some missteps –in recent years, however, to reverse that reputation.
Some of those steps were examined in depth on the Sept. 8 episode of “Federal Spending” as analysts explored how federal IT is trying to be more innovative with public portals, data center consolidation and encouraging cloud adoption.
Host Eric Kavanagh focused on the IT Transformation Roadmap provided by former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra, who outlined ways in which the government should use technology as an enabler, including democratizing data, or inviting the public to not just view government data, but be a part of the application development process that makes data available. Kundra also called on the government to migrate towards digital records and embark on a technical revolution, espousing accountability and leading the way in cyber security.
The drive towards IT infrastructure transformation has suffered some financial failures, however. Kundra cited that agencies have spent billions of dollars on developing systems and processes that fail to deliver expected results.
One example is the Census Bureau, which spent $600 million developing a plan to use handheld computers for the 2010 census. The Census ended up dropping the idea, instead opting for the usual paper-based data collection. That’s an expensive change of heart.
The Census is not alone. According to Kundra’s report, more than half of all major IT projects funded in fiscal year 2008 were poorly planned, poorly performing, or both. These bungled projects represented over 35% of the overall federal IT budget–a whopping $25.2 billion. Perhaps the most alarming finding of Kundra’s report was that despite a 73% increase in cyber security spending, the government had yet to produce a secure computing platform.
What’s more, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has found that many current IT projects are scheduled to produce the first deliverables years after work begins, in some cases up to six years later. In the fast changing world of technology, that amount of time can only lead to outdated resources.
“A six year project is going to be using the wrong technology when it’s implemented,” said Robin Bloor, Ph.D., Chief Analyst and Co-Founder of The Bloor Group, who also spoke on the Sept. 8 show.
Hurdles aside, the government is making progress.
Kavanagh said that post-Katrina he envisioned a transparency portal after Louisiana senators asked for $250 billion in federal aid. Kavanagh said he recalled thinking, “If there is not transparency in that spending, that money can disappear pretty fast.” With his data warehousing and business intelligence background, he said he knew that level of visibility was possible. “There is no technological barrier to us as citizens seeing where our federal dollars go,” said Kavanagh, who at the time was Web Editor for The Data Warehousing Institute.
Lo and behold, Congress passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) in 2006. The Act requires that the OMB establish a searchable website, accessible and free to the public, which includes the amounts and recipients of contract obligations. USASpending.gov is the answer to that requirement.
The site offers a stunning level of transparency. Kavanagh demonstrated the drill-down capabilities, showing that in fiscal 2007 the government spent $2.9 billion on automatic data processing (ADP) software, with the top two contracts awarded to Dell ($177 million) and Softmart Government SVC ($113 million). USASpending.gov also shows general spending trends by state and category, and presents its findings in a variety of charts, graphs and tables.
Kavanagh also referenced one line item in USASpending.gov’s database that lists a $1 billion transaction for Oracle Corporation in 2007, with a project description of “Siebel Software Update & License Support.” A billion dollars for a Siebel upgrade? Interestingly enough, that transaction did not roll up into the site’s aggregate view of ADP software. More investigation to come on that!
Making this kind of data and data exploration available to the public is unprecedented, and it’s by no means the only innovative IT effort afoot today.
“We’re looking at a massive push into data center consolidation,” said the show’s second guest, IT author and research analyst Russell Ruggiero. There are currently over 2000 federal data centers and the intention is to reduce that number to 1200 by 2015. Ruggiero said the reduction of utility costs alone–floor space, energy costs, servers–is the leading driver behind the effort. “It’s a worthwhile goal; it’s also a very ambitious goal,” said Ruggiero, “and while it makes a great deal of sense, there are going to be some formidable challenges.”
Database migration and database upgrades are complex and disruptive. It’s not just a matter of moving servers to a new location; there has to be an engineering process as well. And without a consolidation process to spread across the agencies, this undertaking could end up under the rug, or worse, with a negative return of investment (ROI).
Ruggiero said he estimates it would take about 10 years to really know the economic implications of the data consolidation effort. “With the ever expanding needs of the current applications, and expanded efforts such as cloud computing, there would have to be a matrix created to come up with a true ROI.”
Another forward-thinking plan the government is reported to be considering is cloud adoption. Kundra’s successor, Steven VanRoekel, has said he plans to follow through on Kundra’s cloud-first policy, a cost-saving move that could end up being the champion of the Federal IT department.
“If we’re talking about the government taking advantage of technology, then cloud technology is the obvious way to go,” said Bloor. He said that a client as large as the government should be able to effectively negotiate license or cost fees for cloud services. With a dramatic set of capabilities–virtual machines, software-as-a-service, and public cloud–taking data storage and applications in that direction could potentially draw huge savings.
“The cloud has matured to such an extraordinary extent in the last two years that there is a vast number of applications that we can run in the cloud,” said Bloor, but he cautions against ignoring things like security, service levels and integration. “It’s not like you can happily rush into the cloud without there being issues that you need to address.”
Federal Spending, Episode 5: Innovation in Federal Information Technology
Thursday, September 8 @ Noon ET
Archive to be posted here:
Link to slides:
This show is produced by Inside Analysis in collaboration with Breaking Gov. Please share your thoughts on Twitter with #FedSpend. Federal Spending is an apolitical program designed to follow the money, not the politics or personalities. We broadcast Thursdays at Noon ET for an hour. Guests may stream the audio live without registering, or join the WebEx by registering.
Useful information garnered from the show:
- “If there is not transparency in that spending, that money can disappear pretty fast” Kavanagh “There is no technological barrier to us as citizens seeing where our federal dollars go.” Kavanagh
- “Security is not an easy nut to crack.” Kavanagh
- “This was not the case so much 30, 40, 100 years ago, but these days, technology changes pretty darn fast.” Kavanagh
- “If were talking about government taking advantage of technology, then cloud technology is the obvious way to go.” Bloor
- “The cloud has matured to such an extraordinary extent in the last two years that there is a vast number of applications that we can run in the cloud.” Bloor
- “It’s not like you can happily rush into the cloud without there being issues that you need to address.” Bloor
- “Creating a modern federal database infrastructure is what’s currently going on, which is definitely needed and a worthwhile goal.” Ruggiero
- “If we look at one agency, the DOD, there are hundreds of data centers there.” Ruggiero
- “While it makes a great deal of sense, there are going to be some formidable challenges.” Ruggiero, of the consolidation
- “It’s not just moving serves to a new location, it’s going to be an engineering process.” Ruggiero
- “With the ever expanding needs of the current applications, and expanded efforts such as cloud computing there would have to be a matrix created to come up with a true ROI.” Ruggiero
- “The numbers could be a little bit nebulous.” Ruggiero
- “A six year project is going to be using the wrong technology when it’s implemented.” Bloor
- “The government is probably the biggest buyer of technology in the nation.” Bloor
- “Normally you have some sort of data quality project going on to rectify that.” Bloor
- How will database migration and consolidation disrupt day to day activities?
- Is there a process in place that goes across all agencies?
- According to USASpending.gov, the government’s transparency portal into federal expenditures, the US spent $2.9B in fiscal year 2007 on ADP Software (Automatic Data Processing); $3.2 in 2008; $2.9B in 2009; $4.4B in 2010; $2.8B in 2011.
- In 2007, Dell got $177M, IBM $68M, Oracle $54M, Lockheed $54M, and lesser known companies got the rest.
- One vendor was listed as “-” and they received $23M.
- One contract was a $1B Siebel Software Update & License Support.
- Former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra proposed to make technology an enabler; available to the public.
- The Census Bureau spent $600M in two years using handheld electronic devices; now they are reverting to paper based methods.
- Despite a 73% increase in cyber security, the Federal IT still has a grade of a “C.”
- The government IT budget is very large, and with a large budget you can negotiate very effective license fees or cost fees.
- Cloud offers a dramatic set of inexpensive capabilities.
- Private Cloud: Internal use of virtual machines within a data center.
- The Soft Cloud: The use of applications that are implemented in the cloud, like GoogleApps, Salesforce.com, Netsuite, etc.
- The Iron Cloud: Renting IT resources from providers like Amazon(EC2), Microsoft (Azure), etc.
- There’s a massive push into federal data center consolidation.
- There are over 2000+ data centers, and the goal is to being it down to 1200 by 2015.
- There are 12K applications being supported.
- The effort will improve overall performance.
- Moore’s Law=every six years multiplies the power of computer hardware by about 10.
- The reason for the NOSQL movement is that the old databases (relational) are built for the hardware of 20 years ago, and it’s starting to show.
- Most of the new systems are pointed at big data.
Vivek Kundra’s 25-Point Implementation Plan:
Federal IT Pricing Schedule Contract with Oracle: http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/pricing/gsa-pricelist-070605.pdf
U.S. Governement vs. Oracle:
Federal IT Dashboard:
Articles by Russell Ruggiero:
Host: Eric Kavanagh, firstname.lastname@example.org – 512.426.7725
Show Manager: Rebecca Jozwiak, email@example.com – 817.320.3495
Robin Bloor, Chief Analyst, The Bloor Group: firstname.lastname@example.org