Commerce’s IT modernization is all about shared services

Steve Cooper, the Commerce Department's CIO, said the agency is looking to move four back-office functions to a private sector provider over the next two years.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker challenged her senior technology managers to be more collaborative and coordinated in modernizing the agency’s technology infrastructure. The result of that challenge is a four-pronged approach to the sharing of IT resources.

Steve Cooper, the Commerce Department’s chief information officer, said four working groups are examining the opportunities across technology, finance, human resources and acquisition.

“We are moving toward achieving true shared services in the sense that whatever services are identified by each of those work streams we will then, most likely — and we haven’t done this yet but this is where we are heading — by the end of quarter two or the beginning of quarter three of this fiscal year so we are making very good progress…the idea will be for those services that we agree are viable and could be delivered through a shared services set of providers,” Cooper said. “We’ll likely create an organization inside the Department of Commerce that then would be tasked with the responsibility to select those providers in each of the four functional areas, manage, put service level agreements in place, put appropriate metrics in place and ensure the successful quality delivery of those shared services.”

Cooper said the bureau level CIOs are very supportive of this effort, which, in some ways, pleasantly surprised him.

“This allows every CIO to let go of the commodity IT stuff that honestly is essential, but adds no particular unique value to mission deliver. This is kind of network services. It’s a lot of the stuff behind the screen. This is stuff people know has to be done, but, much like a utility, they don’t feel they have to do it,” said Cooper, who joined the department in June. “What was interesting was everybody said ‘I’m in favor of this. I’m in. I absolutely will participate,’ but nobody wanted to be the shared service provider. That’s fine. We will go to industry as our service provider and that will work very, very well.”

Commerce will issue a request for information toward the end of the year, and eventually a request for proposals for these services. Cooper said the acquisition approach still must be determined. The plan for the IT shared service will either be a joint effort with the other functional areas, or brought out separately because of some of the uniqueness technology requires.

“In essence, think of the transactions world so wherever there are high volume transactions and there are functions that are pretty straight forward and very important, but they’re not necessarily unique to any bureau,” he said. “Everybody, for example, has to hire people. Everybody needs infrastructure to run or host their mission delivery applications on. Everybody needs email, which is an enterprise type of solution.”

Shared service is part of one of three broad focus areas for Cooper. He also is focusing his efforts on fixing some long-standing technical infrastructure problems at the headquarters building in Washington, and coming up with a plan of action to modernize Commerce’s strategic application of technology such as wireless access. But the shared services piece provides the agency with the most opportunity to save money and improve its effectiveness around how it meets its mission.

Cooper said the bureau CIOs want test out the shared services concept sooner than later to get a better understanding of the governance and performance metrics. Commerce will issue a RFI and RFP for video teleconferencing and audio conferencing in the short term. He said it will be more of a “request for services” than a traditional RFP. “We want real services. Who out there will be willing to provide on an as-a-service basis video teleconferencing and audio conferencing to all of the Department of Commerce?” Cooper said. “Our intent, honestly, is to go full-and-open because we want to hear what industry thinks.”

He added this entire approach to shared service is part of how the agency is trying to think differently about technology delivery. The CIO’s office is working closely with the senior procurement executive Barry Berkowitz to figure out how to acquire IT services as a service. In some ways, Commerce is close to completing its first attempt at shared services. Cooper said along the lines of his first priority to fix some basic infrastructure problems at headquarters, Commerce is moving to email in the cloud.

“We have successfully migrated the office of the secretary and some of the smaller bureaus that we support to Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud. That’s actually been completed. Likewise most of the other bureaus, with the exception of NOAA, are moving to Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud,” he said.

NOAA moved to the Google for government email in the cloud in 2012.

Cooper said he worked with the NOAA acting CIO Zach Goldstein to come up with a plan to “peacefully co-exist” with different systems. He said the move to email in the cloud is the first step to moving most of its backend infrastructure to a government-only commercial cloud in the coming years. Commerce will guide all of these efforts — shared services and cloud migration — through its new enterprise transformation roadmap. Cooper said he worked with the bureau CIOs to create this 75-page document as well as recommendations to complete the agency’s enterprise architecture.

“We’ve got a real good dynamic framework for moving the department into the 21st century. I’m very excited about this,” he said. “One of the things that, in discussion with the Secretary and the executive management team, we want to bring secure wireless fully into everything we do. I would argue that is truly moving into the 21st century. That combines mobility, aspects of security and it brings in social media. What we are after is if you walk into Commerce headquarters today, there are places where you can’t get a signal either on your cell phone or on your iPad or wherever. We have guest wireless but it’s limited. We want to change all that. We want to move to an environment where you can do anything and everything you need to do, and again I’m talking about the unclassified space, you can get access to any information, any data sets and any applications you need via a mobile device.”

Steve Cooper joined Federal News Radio for a free online chat Feb. 5, 2015, to discuss these priorities and more. View an archive of the chat here.


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