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Friction is crucial for keeping car tires on the road and a million other things. But friction in information technology slows things down – whether software development, application deployment, equipping new projects with people and the services they need, ultimately running the agency itself.
So it’s important to have technology and management strategies for getting friction out of operations. Federal News Network and Qlik asked a panel of federal IT executives that very question: how do you keep IT operations running optimally, especially when an ongoing pandemic keeps things unpredictable.
For Zach Kahn, division chief of IT Operations at the U.S. Agency for International Development, an ongoing challenge is onboarding and equipping new employees who may be located anywhere throughout the world. An added twist is the need to equip overseas employees who must also work remotely with whatever resources are available. For Kahn, cloud-hosted data and applications, together with remote provisioning of items like smart phones, have helped reduce friction in accomplishing these tasks.
At the EPA, Chief Data Officer Richard Allen said, employees have shifted to greater use of a cloud collaboration suite through which they chat and, increasingly, share data and files in a unified environment. He said the human side of change management is as important in such a shift as the technology.
Agencies across the government are using software-as-a-service platforms, according to Andrew Churchill, the vice president for federal at Qlik.
Why? “Because whether they are standing up new instances of technology or expanding on one that they already have, the fact that they’re able to use repeatable security plans that allow them to authorize operation and deliver that capability more quickly, is as important as it’s ever been.” And speed is the result of less friction, Churchill said.
When you wrap together software-as-a-service, well-crafted cloud computing operations, and a secure data-sharing setup, another element to help reduce friction and increase speed and security. According to Jose Atrieta, former chief information office and interim chief data officer at the Health and Human Services Department, that element is a solid identity and credentialing access management system.
Arrieta cited what HHS was able to do at the outset of the pandemic, when the national response required comprehensive data sharing.
“In a period of five or 10 days,” he said, “we stood up a massive data repository that was about 8 billion data elements connected with all 50 states, all six territories, 15,000 nursing homes, 10,000, hospitals, 225 data sets, at 22 federal agencies – in the pandemic response from April 5th to April 10th.”
A third additional piece of infrastructure, Arrieta added, is immutable records of who submits and accesses data, “because it’s the only way you can create trust.”
In short, cloud plus software-as-a-service available in a secure, FedRAMP context reverses what Churchill described as a high-friction scenario of yesteryear for establishing new capabilities. “If we go back 10 or 15 years that was going to be done in an on-premise data center. Just racking those servers, building those servers, authorizing those servers, before we ever even put software on them, was going to take an incredible amount of time.”
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