One of the nation’s top government chief information officers predicted within the next five years, federal agencies will be able to begin procuring enterprise level back office information systems as a service rather than having to develop or maintain their own systems.

Richard Spires, CIO for the Department of Homeland Security, and vice chairman of the Federal CIO Council, said federal agencies–including DHS–are actively trying to reduce and standardize the number of commonly used information systems.

But looking beyond the anticipated consolidation of those systems, Spires foresees a variety of back office business functions becoming “commoditized” and technology players developing more sophisticated service offerings.

“Over the next five years,” Spires predicted, “You’ll see…cloud service providers come together in a consortium model to offer back end services to the federal government.” Those services might eventually support enterprise wide financial and human resources management systems, he said.

Spires admitted five years might be a little aggressive. And he drew a distinction between IT systems used for business operations–such as email, customer relations management and business intelligence–and those used for supporting the missions of agencies.

But he pointed to a pilot DHS will begin fully testing this summer called Workplace as a service as both an indication of how certain services are already becoming commoditized and why the trajectory of change is already pointing to larger scale services.

Workplace as a service would provide DHS employees with a virtual desktop set up that would also include a suite of mobile capabilities, all with one integrated security model, he said, speaking at the Federal Senior Management Conference being held this week in Cambridge, Md.

“Employees might get a tablet, a smartphone, and a single wire wireless package, all at one price per month,” he said.

Spires envisions being able to put the service out for competition and buy service level agreements from vendors “in a way that I can benchmark against the best (offerings) in the world,” he said.

Eventually, he sees a day when DHS could go to one service provider that meets the government’s need from and end-to-end basis, he said.

Spires reiterated that the DHS-and the government at large–can no longer justify duplicative business systems and even many specialized systems.

He pointed to how DHS officials had inventoried the systems used to support 13 central functions, and found, for instance “117 ways to screen people,” for security concerns, from truckers handling hazardous materials, to people working at maritime ports, to airline pilots.

Similarly, he said, “We have 130 HR systems” across all of DHS’s 22 components and subdivisions–and more than 20 national situational awareness operations centers, each supported by separate underlying systems, he said.

Perhaps of equal concern to him, however, “is when people aren’t able to tell me…what their systems are going to look like in four or five years out; who don’t have a game plan…on the IT side and operations side,” he said.

Spires also said that as part of the government’s efforts to reduce duplication, the Office of Management and Budget announced earlier this month a new IT portfolio tracking system that will give OMB and agency CIOs a more complete view of where IT money is going and opportunities to consolidate buying.