SBA embracing more digital services in its plan to modernize data

Like the enterprises it aims to support, the Small Business Administration is attempting to modernize and innovate.

Since 1953 the agency has offered capital, contracting expertise and other forms of advocacy to small businesses. But in the last few years it’s also looked at using digital services and digital technology solutions.

Nagesh Rao, director of Business Technology Solutions in the Small Business Administration’s Office of the Chief Information Officer

“Mostly digital products — we’re starting to use an awful lot of software as a service solution. [A bit of it is still infrastructure as a service and we do still have some of our legacy systems that are built on on-premise servers,” Nagesh Rao, director of Business Technology Solutions in SBA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, said on Federal Monthly Insights — A New Approach in IT Modernization. “But our goal over the last few years has really been to push as much as possible to a cloud-based solution as possible, and using over-the-shelf technology to make sure the solutions happen, whether it’s for [customer relationship management] and use of dynamics, or our web development projects that are built in Drupal, whatever it may be.”

Rao said the private sector has done well to iterate extensively in software development, and therefore it makes no sense for SBA to custom code. The value proposition, he said, is to just take that, augment it and tweak it to the needs of the agency’s customers.

For his office, moving away from legacy systems means data curation and migration in a two-pronged process. That includes the technology itself, and managing people’s expectations to change the way SBA deals with its workforce.

“It takes time, you have to work with pilots and in little bits at a time, and … make those changes happen … start to turn off servers and migrate the data into a cloud-based server, and make better use of the technology that is curating that data better, whether it’s an [Amazon Web Services] or Azure cloud environment, and using the tools that are built around those cloud environments,” he said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Rao said his office has looked at best practices across federal agencies, from federal CIO councils to the app rationalization playbook; he said SBA has been making its own version. He also said it’s worth asking whether data that is as old as 10 or 15 years is even worth migrating to the cloud. While he did not give an estimate for how much of SBA’s data is already in the cloud, Rao did say that his team spent the summer moving everything it had into SharePoint’s cloud-based version.

“The thing that we still have to work on, though, is the rest of our agency program offices. Some are situated through us, and some have their own IT workforce. And so we’re in the process of leading  the charge forward so that everyone universally falls in alignment with our vision, and we’re getting there, but … you got to have the little ones to get the big one,” he said.

Looking ahead at the next one to two years, his modernization objective is solidifying the fundamentals. His office is working on enterprise customer relationship management system along with a case management system, that the agency can use overall, and “really working towards the customer journey from a 360 perspective,” he said.

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