HHS pacing its move to the cloud

The Department of Health and Human Services will release a solicitation for email-as-a-service this summer. July 11, 2013

The long-awaited solicitation to move the Department of Health and Human Services to the cloud for email is coming in the next month or two.

Frank Baitman, the HHS chief information officer, said the request for proposals likely will be more about collaboration than just basic email services.

“There’s so much more tied up in the vendor offerings of putting email in the cloud that would really modernize the systems we are using. You get things like video chat, instant messaging and office tools in the cloud,” he said. “All of those things, they are what our users, our employees, have in their personal lives now and what they expect to have in their office.”

Industry sources say HHS has been talking about this for more than a year and promising a request for proposals.

Baitman said the email-as-a-service contract would not be for the entire department right away.

“No operating divisions have yet moved to the cloud. We are doing an assessment right now, what the cost and benefits are across the department,” he said. “As that comes in, we will make a decision about which parts of the department are going to migrate. The bottom line, though, it’s pretty rare in a large, diverse organization like HHS that any single initiative benefits every corner of the organization equally.”

Baitman is taking a similar approach with its virtual desktop initiative (VDI) pilot.

About 500 employees in the office of the secretary are testing out the VDI concept to better understand the benefits of this approach to computing.

“Why do we love VDI? Well first, we have to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7 before Microsoft ends support for XP next April. Moving people to VDI means we simply can move them virtually. We don’t have to go out and change their machines,” Baitman said. “Some of the older machines will work even better with VDI than running an operating system right on them. One of the things we really enjoy about VDI, it will help us mobilize our workforce. We are going to make it possible for people to use VDI on mobile devices, with no security risks.”

Baitman said VDI is more secure because no data is transferred to the personal device so the information remains secure in the data center.

“We’ve had the pilot going now for about six weeks. Our assessment of the pilot will be completed at the end of August. Beginning in the fall, we will roll out from pilot to production for the appropriate folks within the office of secretary,” he said. “Until the pilot is completed, I don’t know how many people that’s going to be or I don’t know what sort of cost savings we’re hoping to get. The pilot is going to help us do those economics.”

One area where Baitman is surer about the savings is moving HHS’ human resources systems to a shared service provider.

Baitman said HHS is consolidating its major HR systems, under the program the agency named hire-to-retire, in the Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center’s shared services center.

He said the migration should be completed by February 2015, with the first operating divisions in the department moving to NFC in less than a year from today.

HHS expects the migration and consolidation to save about $6 million a year, and Baitman said he plans to shut down 10 legacy HR systems as well.

“We are in the project design phase. Over the last six months, we’ve received conditional approval from OMB and OPM on our business case. We’ve completed our first major milestone review and we’ve gotten buy-in from stakeholders across the department,” he said. “We’ve agreed upon a deployment and transition schedule. We’ve just completed our fit-gap analysis so we can take all the existing systems, know what they provide and know what are lacking and will need to be adjusted during the migration.”

Baitman said the PortfolioStat process helped HHS determine its best course of action.

“We were already heading down the path of saying the HR system we are using is end of life so we need to do something about it regardless,” he said. “PortfolioStat helped us highlight places where we have challenges in gathering information across the department. It helped us bring together that information in a common measurable way, and it became an exercise that allowed us to prioritize among other things, hire-to-retire as being one of those things we were going to focus on early on.”


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