Marshals Service modernizing the ‘meat-and-potatoes’ of IT

The U.S. Marshals Service is embarking on a host of significant technology upgrades over the next few years.

Karl Mathias, the Marshal Service’s chief information officer, said his focus really is the meat-and-potatoes of IT.

Karl Mathias
Karl Mathias

“My number one priority is to make sure services are available to my customers,” he said. “So my actual biggest priority right now in the Marshals Service is to go out and find better ways to supply that service. There are two specific areas I’m looking at: IT service management and IT asset management. Specifically what we are looking at is how can I improve my helpdesk operations, how can we reduce wait times, call abandonment times, improve first call resolution? We are asking questions like should I be managing the helpdesk or should I be outsourcing the helpdesk?”

Along those same lines, Mathias said the Marshals Service needs a better way to do the operations and maintenance of desktop computers and laptops in the districts located around the country.

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He said currently the bureau of the Justice Department must send someone to a district when a computer goes down.

“What I’m looking for is an improved approach to that model,” Mathias said. “Is it an approach where we go to a depot based approach where rather than me sending someone to repair it, they just box the thing up, send it to the depot and the depot sends them a new machine? Or, do I go to a completely managed approach where I have a vendor come in and say, ‘These are going to be our equipment, we will maintain it to the service levels you will provide and you will pay a fixed cost on the contract do that.’ We are looking at all those things, and my goal is, number one, don’t take so long to get a machine fixed to the customer out in the field; and number 2, see if I can do this in a more cost effective way and save the taxpayer some money.”

Mathias said the Marshals Service still is in the early stages of strategy development. He said his office is developing a business case analysis, doing market research and an analysis of alternatives.

He said that business case analysis and an acquisition strategy should be completed sometime in late September or early October.

“As part of the BCA process, we will be doing market research and there will be requests for information going out so if you do hear from my BCA team as a vendor, you should respond to that. Don’t take it lightly. We follow it religiously as far as that process goes,” Mathias said.

Mathias said the current process works, but the bureau is spending more than he’d like to fix computers.

“I think that part of it is because of the travel time of the technician there. You can find yourself in the position where you are spending more money on travel than the machine is worse,” he said. “It doesn’t happen all the time, but it shouldn’t happen period. So that’s the problem we are going to solve here.”

If the infrastructure and asset management is the meat, then mobility is the potatoes.

Mathias said there are two ongoing initiatives under the Marshals Service’s mobility strategy.

First, the bureau is switching to Apple iPhones for all employees starting in September.

Second, the Marshals Service is just kicking off a pilot to test tablet computers for some employees in the field.

“They are Windows 8 based tablets,” Mathias said. “We are checking to see if our deputy marshals and our staff out there find these useful, and what is the use case for them? At the same time, we are taking into account that law enforcement environment because, let’s face it, as one of the marshals once told me, if he sees a roomful of his deputy marshals, he knows something is wrong. He wants them in the field. That’s a gritty, mean environment out there so we want to see what their survivability looks like. At the same time, I can’t go to the really ruggedized ones because we can’t afford them for everybody. So there is this cost-benefit thing we are looking at from a mobility perspective.”

Mathias said the tablet pilot is fairly small, less than 100 users and its tied to a user’s profile in terms of whether they need a desktop or laptop or what type of device is best.

A third helping in the Marshals Service meat-and-potatoes IT effort is the cloud. Mathias said the bureau hasn’t moved any applications or servers to the cloud yet, but email will be among the first services they are looking at.

He said part of his considering is looking at where the Justice Department’s enterprise IT services offerings fits into his modernization strategy.

“We are looking for ways to not just get the Marshals into the cloud, and what I’d specifically like to do is get off our own exchange servers, move into a cloud-based email approach or core office services, but not just us but the entire department as a whole what service can we provide, what vehicles can we provide to make this happen?” Mathias said.

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