Cloud Exchange 2022: Interior Business Center’s Byron Adkins on customers driving IT goals

 
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For the Interior Business Center, customer feedback isn’t a new phenomenon. The Interior Department center — which provides acquisition, financial management, human resources and contract audit shared services — has been digesting insights from its customers for the last 30 years.

While successive administrations, starting with that of President George W. Bush and the “three clicks to service” mantra, have emphasized that agencies change their approach, IBC has...

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Part 1

Part 2

For the Interior Business Center, customer feedback isn’t a new phenomenon. The Interior Department center — which provides acquisition, financial management, human resources and contract audit shared services — has been digesting insights from its customers for the last 30 years.

While successive administrations, starting with that of President George W. Bush and the “three clicks to service” mantra, have emphasized that agencies change their approach, IBC has leaned on a wide variety of ways to collect and analyze customer feedback.

“We have a lot of dialogue with our customers,” Byron Adkins Jr., the center’s director, said during the Federal News Network Cloud Exchange 2022.

“Having the opportunity to have those feedback mechanisms, whether it’s email surveys or direct interaction through focus groups that we have with our customer base, helps us understand what it is they need today, what they need in the future and how we can best position our systems that we use and the data that we can provide them so that they can truly focus on their missions,” Adkins said. “We want them to truly focus on high-value work that they need to do and less on the inner workings of the systems that they use.”

IBC’s customers are varied and many. The center serves 150 federal organizations, including many Interior offices. Additionally, IBC works closely with the vendor community providing the systems and technology that underpin its shared services offerings.

A partnership with industry ensures the center can keep up with new or innovative technologies and how best to deliver them to federal customers, Adkins said.

“We have been doing some upgrades to stay relevant with what we have on premise, but we’d much rather focus toward investing into what our future systems and operating posture is going to be,” he said.

SaaS is the future

The future, of course, means taking advantage of cloud services, mostly software as a service.

Adkins said IBC recently brought in a third party to provide an assessment of where it is today and where the center needs to go over the next three to five years.

“We’re working now to come up with an overall enterprise strategy for one approach to modernization. It may not be one approach associated with all of our lines of business that we serve. Obviously, there are different needs and different aspects of where some may be more appropriate for platform as a service versus software as a service,” he said.

Generally for the largest assets, the center has been looking at some sort of SaaS upgrade to move assets and systems to the cloud.

“Most of our stuff now is currently on premise so we definitely know where we need to go,” Adkins said. “It’s just a matter of making sure we have a solid roadmap.”

The center currently runs about 30 IT systems. But as the team develops a roadmap, the goal is to modernize, optimize, improve services and reduce costs to customers.

The IBC assessment focused heavily on its financial management services because that group is the most ready for a move to the cloud. IBC already is taking advantage of modular SaaS upgrades, such as the recent move of a key piece of its acquisition management system to the cloud and a near-term plan to move its budget formulation tool to the cloud, Adkins said.

Validation of the path forward

The assessment didn’t find anything too surprising. It mostly validated where the center is today and where it needs to go in the short term, he said.

“If we really want to push ourselves to better service our customers and be more nimble, we’re going to have to move in this direction,” Adkins said. “Another piece of validation was some indication of how to get there. We haven’t figured that out completely. But there were some recommendations that came out that will be helpful.”

While IBC financial systems may be first, human resources services also are a good candidate to move to the cloud, he said.

“We’re just getting started with framing our framework and our strategy to do this as well within our HR line of business. We have a federal payroll and personnel system combined, which is going to be our largest migration toward the cloud that we’re looking to do as well,” he said.

While this roadmap comes together, Adkins said there are certain things IBC can do to improve its customer experience, such as the recent implementation of a single sign-on capability for its time and attendance system.

“We will be migrating about 19 customers over to our Quicktime time and attendance system over the next two years. So we are looking forward to improving that experience,” he said. “For the most part, the feedback is, ‘It’s not a perfect solution and certainly we’d love to have more flexibility,’ particularly a lot of feedback about a mobile capability. So we’re looking to do that, particularly on our time and attendance solution. Moving forward, hopefully, around the 2024 timeframe, we may have something available for that. We’re staying status quo. I think folks are comfortable with what works, in what’s secure as part of our FedRAMP-certified system.”

That short-term focus on creating a mobile application so users can access certain tools more easily is driven by customer feedback. The current infrastructure doesn’t support that and so the center is maintaining operations and has no plans to make huge investments.

“We know ultimately we want to move to something much more modern,” Atkins said. “We have about maybe another year in place from an enterprise perspective… We have requested funding to support some initiatives related to our core financial system moving to the cloud. Subject to that being available, we probably could start as early as fiscal 2024. We’re still doing some of the initial planning while we wait for the funding.”

Automation gaining in popularity

Intelligence automation is one area for which IBC isn’t waiting on funding. Adkins said the organization recognized the opportunity and desire by their customers for robotics process automation and other tools to address manual and low-value efforts.

RPA and intelligent automation is budding line of service in its financial management offerings, he said.

“We’ve organically grown that capability,” Adkins said. What’s more, some customers have their own automations that they want to integrate with IBC systems.

“We’re working through that because in some instances, they’re unattended,” he said. “From a cyber and from an IT security perspective, we have to work with our Office of the Chief Information Officer stakeholders to make sure that they’re comfortable with what we’re doing.”

That said, there is definite demand from customers, who regularly ask, “How can we automate this? How can we make this process more efficient?” Adkins said.

RPA isn’t always the answer, but by streamlining the process, customers can save time and money, he said. In other cases, automation makes perfect sense.

“We are really looking to step into the realm where we can get into these unattended bots that can work after hours when folks aren’t there,” he said. “This is very new for the Department of Interior to figure out how we can do that and do that in a way that our IT experts are comfortable with making sure that these bots can access our payroll system, our personnel systems or our financial management systems and not have a human being associated with it… It’s just a matter of us catching up and making sure that we are sharing best practices within the community.”

Check out all the sessions from the Federal News Network Cloud Exchange 2022.