IT modernization at CDC just one piece of a bigger strategy

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn’t just jumping on the IT modernization bandwagon to get rid of legacy technology.

The agency is focusing across its customers, its workforce and the technology that underpins all of those efforts to bring the CDC into the modern IT era.

Suzi Connor, the chief information officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said her three-pronged approach will change the way the CDC manages and uses technology.

Suzi Connor is the chief information officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The first is a digital transformation. What that means is we are re-envisioning IT, the tools and thinking around it to improve our customer experience, engage our workforce and innovate for high performance,” Connor said on Ask the CIO. “A second part is looking at IT modernization specifically, which means we are upgrading our core infrastructure, enhancing our technologies and our capabilities, and expanding into new products and service deliveries. That means a state-of-the-art technology platform or, for CDC, it will likely be an ecosystem as we have a variety of mission critical systems that need to be interoperable to enable shared services and solutions across the CDC organizations.”

The third piece of the strategy is focused on workforce development by addressing the digital skills gap of CDC’s employees.

“Our systems need to be modernized with new capabilities therefore modernizing our workforce as well,” she said. “One thing that we are absolutely intent on is releasing the power of our data. We really want to launch our new website that just came out, which is open.cdc.gov, to share our technology resources with our public health stakeholders.”

Connor said a key piece to this three-part strategy is working with her customers to understand their most pressing challenges and where emerging technologies like artificial intelligence or natural language processing can help solve them.

“We are innovating mission critical applications and integrating and extending those capabilities through advancements of modernized enterprise architectures such as cloud solutions, for example,” she said. “We are embarking on a transformation with cloud as part of that digital effort. We feel that cloud has the greatest near-term potential to increase operational efficiency and get the capacity we need for CDC. Traditionally, CDC has been very methodical and deliberate with our investments, and cloud was one of those areas we needed to understand and what was the power and capabilities we could achieve through that.”

To help push this three-part strategy forward, Connor led an agencywide cloud task force to focus on seven recommendations, including developing a cloud strategy that is a brokerage approach, a more nimble governance process and flexible consumption-based acquisition vehicles.

She said each of the seven recommendations is a parallel work stream to understand what are the critical demands of the agency and how to architect the technology to meet those challenges.

“It’s not just about accelerating our adoption, but really laying a thoughtful foundation of how to integrate all these new technologies together as well,” Connor said. “The task force is looking at how do we build that architecture framework into our cloud solution. [The Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions] is really at a pivotal point of these intersections all coming together at one time for us to take advantage of the scope and the scale. In order to go to the cloud and work with larger data sets, you need to have that more robust capability and transport and that is what EIS in intended to do.”

CDC already has taken some initial steps into the cloud, moving to Microsoft Office 365 for email and collaboration tools.

Connor said 2019 will start the year of change for CDC, particularly around cloud adoption and moving services off-premise.

“2019 will be primarily a foundational component and I really see a lot more expansion in 2020,” she said. “As an organization, I encourage the use of rapid prototypes and exploration so that we can quickly test out these methods in an agile manner so we can provide these capabilities in a much faster response time.”

A longer-term goal for this IT modernization strategy is to shift CDC away from spending so much of its $500 million IT budget on legacy systems. Connor estimated that the agency spends about 80 percent of its budget on operations and maintenance and only 20 percent on development, modernization and enhancements of systems.

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