FITARA shortcomings are a failure of network monitoring

The continuing struggles of federal agencies to make the grade on the scorecard for the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) proves that, on the whole, agencies are unfortunately not doing enough to monitor their IT network performance – or to understand the inter-relationship of network components.

In October 2015, the first FITARA scorecard yielded embarrassingly low results for most agencies, with 13 “D” scores and three “F” ratings.

Adelle Rydman is the director of federal business for Zenoss.
Adelle Rydman is the director of federal business for Zenoss.

This past May, the House Oversight and Government Reform IT Subcommittee released its second round of FITARA scorecards. This time around performance was somewhat better, as the “D” rankings numbered only 10, and only NASA earned a failing grade. While that’s clear improvement, it’s still not the kind of report card you’d want to take home to Mom.

As most know, these FITARA letter grades are based on agencies’ self-reported data in four areas: data center consolidation, IT portfolio review savings, incremental development, and risk assessment transparency. In the most recent grading period, two of the areas, IT portfolio review savings and data center consolidation, were the real problem areas.

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Most agencies saw their overall grades dragged down because of failing performance in these two categories. (Notable exceptions were the departments of Labor, Commerce and Justice, all of which received “A” grades in data center consolidation.) Largely because of these failings, not even one agency has yet to earn an “A” grade across all scorecard categories.

IT portfolio review savings and data center consolidation have one thing in common – network monitoring. These days especially, as IT infrastructure starts to move increasingly to the cloud, what we’re really talking about is the need for unified network monitoring across a complete hybrid cloud environment.

Unified monitoring is particularly important in being able to confidently review and predict areas of potential IT portfolio savings. That FITARA metric focuses on how agencies use PortfolioStat to reduce duplicative investments. Federal agencies have to review their respective IT investment portfolios and find areas where they can consolidate and manage commodity IT services. The Office of Management and Budget introduced PortfolioStat in March 2012 for that purpose.

The PortfolioStat tool allows for what CIO.gov characterizes as a face-to-face, evidence-based review of an agency’s IT portfolio,” including information on commodity IT investments and potential duplication within an agency.

PortfolioStat looks across an agency’s IT portfolio at the enterprise level, to help identify and eliminate areas of duplication and waste. “Through the PortfolioStat process,” writes CIO.gov, “agencies will develop a clearer picture of where duplication exists across their respective bureaus and components.”

It’s a useful exercise to follow for any agency that’s hoping for a passing grade in the FITARA scorecard. But on a day-to-day level, it still boils down to monitoring your IT infrastructure.

On the state and local level, there are some examples of how network monitoring has been used precisely to identify areas of needless duplication, and to consolidate data centers, in the kind of double play that would spell real success in FITARA rankings. Federal IT professionals should take a page from their playbook

For example, consider the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). This sprawling organization serves students and faculty from locations in the U.S., Germany and Japan. As the organization began a transition to more of a cloud-based infrastructure, it needed to know exactly where it could consolidate its data center holdings. By being able to monitor and identify unnecessarily redundant network systems, UMUC was able to reduce its physical IT infrastructure by almost 97 percent, keeping only the most essential systems – and to greatly reduce its data centers.

Of course, networking monitoring alone is not enough to prepare you for the PortfolioStat sessions that truly get to the heart of the duplicative systems that are costing money for agencies – and taxpayers. The agencies that are doing best in the FITARA scorecard process are those that have invested in full-time dedicated FITARA staffers, like the departments of Commerce and Education, the poster children for effective compliance.

On the other hand, your organization should not be running its IT operation for the sake of a good FITARA scorecard. Getting optimal results in network operations should be a best practice overall, not just motivated and driven by getting the best grades on a compliance initiative.

As best practices are concerned, the starting point should not be “how can I get the best grade on my FITARA scorecard?,” but “how can I work day-to-day to ensure that my networks are running properly, with the highest uptimes and the greatest efficiency?”

For that, the only real answer is unified monitoring.

Adelle Rydman is director federal business for Zenoss. She can be reached arydman@zenoss.com