Software as a service: Solution for slow modernization of legacy systems?

Army Corps CIO believes investing in software as a service will speed up IT modernization and promote more agility in the changes that are made within an agency

Having the right technology is of the utmost importance for the agency responsible for many of the government’s infrastructure upgrades and disaster relief. But it goes beyond that. The Army Corps of Engineers is working to modernize many IT systems, but it has not yet turned a blind eye to its legacy systems.

The Corps is focusing on several areas within its current systems that can use some improvement, including network convergence, user services and cyber capabilities.

“We want to be highly mobile. We want to be highly relevant to what consumers experience … to understand the user experience from their desk through whatever network capability there is to the application set that resides in the cloud or resides in a local data center to make sure it’s relevant and timely to their mission needs,” Greg Garcia, agency CIO, said on Federal Insights – Legacy Systems. “We’re focused to make sure that network provides a response that meets their mission.”

Engineers, members of the military and federal employees need to have the same capabilities out in the field as they would in their office. But cybersecurity and the protection of secure data becomes even more important when you move to a more mobile platform and other applications, Garcia said.

His solution? Software as a service.

“This is where I’m a big proponent of software as a service,” Garcia said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “You can just let the vendor keep that software up to date. We’re looking toward the capability of consuming maybe a GIS (geographic information systems) software from the cloud.”

USACE supports an initiative to share directly between agency sponsors, stakeholders and contractors. Garcia said they are working on a project —  called the collaborative project work space  — that will offer the ability for those involved to share from mobile phones, other devices or desktops. He said this will help with the planning stages from design to construction to the transition of operations.

This project is also cloud-based and adheres to a SaaS model. It will also cut down on the issues an older, or lagging, system may have on the process. Garcia said the purpose is to find a way to ensure the data between the parties is vetted, adjusted and then returned to the shared system.

“I believe it will speed up the ability to do construction, have more integrity in the changes that are made and really be a better product for everybody around,” he said.


It doesn’t matter how well your IT modernization efforts sound until you actually get the tools to acquire and deploy them. Diving into SaaS could help put the federal government on the same wavelength as the larger software companies such as Adobe, Autodesk and others.

Garcia said he is pushing more for an enterprise design that is tailorable, but still hosted in a cloud.

“When an enterprise contract in the Army makes the best sense for us, we’re absolutely in for that,” he said. “If there’s a software that is better when we partner with other DoD agencies — like what we did with Microsoft — we’re all in for that.”

Cybersecurity is a big concern for all IT modernization efforts. And this is how technology can be an enabler, or something that holds mission back.

Garcia said having the right leadership, and diverse staff,  in place is also important. Before joining USACE, Garcia served in the Pentagon as the director for common IT. He said his other roles also prepared him for his current position.

“[The] experience of understanding early indication of problems, early development of solutions has been one of the great things that I’ve been able to bring perspective to as the CIO … it’s really exciting to help our mission partners,” he said.

Garcia said his job as CIO is not just to be an infrastructure person, but also an enabler for innovation and mission delivery. He said It is his job to formulate mission-enhancing ideas into cyber secure technology solutions.

“I’m kind of an observer and a challenger to really enforce these ideas to be implemented,” he said. “So, I’m kind of a tough customer in the sense that I have such wide experiences that I can help them see where maybe they’re not fully embracing the techniques, technologies and processes that are available today.”

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