Data center optimization framed in cybersecurity, customer service terms for Trump administration

Advocating data center consolidation and optimization as a priority could be a tough sell to the Donald Trump administration, but the federal IT community has courted the White House by framing the issue within the narrative of the president’s soon-to-emerge cybersecurity executive order.

While back-office functions may not be a top priority for an administration that remains in the process of nominating the second-in-command at most federal agencies, panelists at a data center optimization panel sponsored by Meritalk framed the issue in terms of cybersecurity and customer service end-goals relevant to the president’s agenda.

“I talked a lot with the transition teams, and IT is kind of a tough subject to get people to pay attention to, but cyber isn’t, and I think if you start with cyber and lead with cyber, it opens a conversation with key executives at the departments and agencies. Because to go in there and talk about data centers, IT spend or inefficient systems, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” Dave Powner, the director of IT issues at the Government Accountability Office, said Thursday.

Powner said chief information officers have an opportunity with the new administration to present cybersecurity concerns as grounds for seeking the authorities they need at their agencies to make the move toward cloud services and “buying instead of building” IT data centers.

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“I had a CIO who I have a great deal of respect for, probably had the best FITARA scorecard grade — a ‘B’ … they went to email-as-a-service and reduced the cost per email significantly. But three components told him ‘I like my old email and I’m not going.’ And you know what? They’re still using their old email,” Powner said.

While Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Will Hurd (R-Texas) continue to push for an updated version of the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, many voices in the federal IT community have tried to present data center consolidation in terms of the bottom-line impact it will have on end users.

“A lot of it is ‘What’s in it for me?’ From a business perspective, if we go from three racks to 14U … did that translate into the business getting a lower bill? Did it go faster? Are their applications sped up? What is in it for the business? I think it all has to go back into what is the business impact of what we do,” Brad Wintermute, the deputy chief information officer at the Food and Drug Administration, said.

Yemi Oshinnaiye, the division chief of U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services’ enterprise infrastructure division, said USCIS has moved 50 percent of its data onto the public cloud, with the rest of the Homeland Security Department’s components moving in that direction.

“Our major applications are sitting there, and we’re moving the rest of it,” Oshinnaiye said. “DHS as a whole, I think … the concept is starting to spread. But I think the fear is security, being able to have a really robust network, so we’re investing in that.”

Oshinnaiye acknowledged some “cultural” issues in getting customers to embrace cloud services, but he said showing them the end-goal benefits has helped win hearts and minds.

“People see the gains … as you go ahead and experiment and put things in the cloud … from an IT perspective, we forget the program is the end-user. So we say ‘Hold on, we’re going to the cloud,’ but we need to show the benefit of the program. Once they see it, they’ll support it,” he said.

Jonathan Alboum, the CIO of the Department of Agriculture said USDA has long been a provider of shared services across the federal government, but added that the Trump White House may further refine that workflow.

“Many of our agencies serve the same customers, and sometimes we serve them differently and sometimes we don’t necessary see them as the same customer even though it’s the same person … In this administration, I think there’s a renewed sense focus on customer service and putting customer service on the top of the value chain and thinking about our processes differently,” Alboum said.

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