FCC finds a path to cut spending on legacy IT by 35 percent

The idea that technology is only in the purview of the chief information officer is an outdated concept. But it’s one that continues to live throughout the government.

The Federal Communications Commission has emerged over the last few years as an organization that is accepting the “IT is every executive’s responsibility” mantra.

David Bray, the FCC CIO and the government co-chair for ACT-IAC’s Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia starting Oct. 23, said CIOs need to shape the narrative by getting the other “C-suite” executives to understand why it’s important to invest in technology for the mission.

“It was not just thinking about how you move things with speed to a better digital platform, but then also how can you make it easier for your stakeholders so they don’t have to figure out one of 18 different forms, and instead can answer seven questions. Then, much like TurboTax, they automatically filled out one of those forms much easier, much faster and more responsive,” he said in an interview with Federal News Radio.

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Bray said too many times change is part of the concept of moving toward a digital business environment, but that also misses the point.

“What part of your business would you not want to have digital?” he said. “I think the same thing is true about public service, which is increasingly what we are doing here in public service, and that is government, but even more than government, needs to be more than just simplify thinking about IT as an IT function, but it’s really about how do you bake in delivering services to the public that have IT baked in, that have privacy and security baked in. It’s really about rethinking how we do business.”

Bray has led the FCC’s rethinking of how they do business, first with small projects that showed his fellow executives what is possible, and finally major initiatives such as moving their entire data center to a public cloud.

Three years into his tenure as the FCC CIO, Bray said the commission’s acceptance of IT as a shared responsibility is clear.

For instance, the FCC was spending 85 percent of its budget on legacy systems, some of which were more than a decade old. Bray said now the FCC is spending about 50 percent of its IT budget on operations and maintenance of its systems — a 35 percent  decrease in two years.

“This gave us enough fuel to modernize the remaining systems at the commercial provider to move commercial cloud platforms,” he said. “We probably are as low as we can go. At the end of the day, I really think about if you get a good public cloud platform, software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service, partner and what you are getting is the economy of scale of them maintain the patches, maintaining the updates and maintaining the security.”

Bray said one of the biggest benefits is not the cost savings or the ability to move money from legacy system to new technology — both of which are important — but the capacity to develop, test and turn on new services in a matter of days instead of months.

“We are remixing existing commercial micro-services, whether it be software-as-a-service or platform-as-a-service, stitching them together with a very thin application programming interface (API) and then having a very flexible user interface on top of it. The very fact I can stand up a new prototype in less than two days is the big gain,” he said. “In fact, there are some cases now where we go back to our partners at the FCC and they are like, ‘We weren’t expecting something for another three or four weeks.’ Then there is also the resiliency. Yes, our cybersecurity people will be paying attention to what’s going on in these clouds, but I have no doubt the vendors themselves will also have their cybersecurity people so there is an economy of scale that comes with that resiliency by working with partners in industry.”

Every agency is facing similar challenges in trying to shift how they spend their IT funding. Federal CIO Tony Scott said agencies are facing a $7 billion bill because of out-of-date technology in the next five years.

Bray said the fact the FCC could reduce its legacy IT spending despite having an overall budget that has been flat or decreasing over the last several years, shows the real impact of changing the role of CIOs and IT in government.

All of these ideas — IT modernization, the changing role of the CIO and the mandate to deliver results to the citizen differently than before — are among the major themes of ELC this year.

Bray said the ever-growing ubiquitous nature of technology is morphing the long-held view of what government is and how it works.

“How many of us would be willing to actually volunteer data on air quality or water quality or transportation quality if it would make our communities safer and better?” he said. “In my opinion, the word federal government is an increasingly outdated term. We really need to talk about public service that includes members of the public that not only receive services, but if they want, they can actually provide data anonymously and privately that actually makes their local community safer or more sound.”

Bray pointed to two recent examples of how this concept is in use today. First, during the recent terrorist attack in New York City where the New York police, the FBI and others reached out to the community for help in identifying and finding the suspects.

Additionally, Bray said the FCC tested out a similar concept in 2013 with a crowdsourced application to measure bandwidth speeds by provider across the country.

“By getting that trust — our terms and conditions were two pages long — it was the fourth most popular app behind Google Chrome,” he said. “I really hope the dialogue for 2017 and beyond is not just about getting off legacy systems and IT modernization, I think that’s the necessary part, but I really think the most important thing we can have in 2017 and beyond is really how we redo the business of public service such that it is the public-private sector partners and government working for the whole of the nation.”

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