State Dept. ‘bookended’ by data accountability, workforce goals in pursuit of IT modernization

As the State Department gears up for a multi-year effort to move to a hybrid cloud environment as part of its IT modernization strategy, Ken Rogers, the acting deputy chief information officer of business management and planning, said the strategy is bookended by two related goals — leveraging data as a strategic asset, and building the IT workforce of the future.

Both of those goals, he added, line up with key tenets of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA).

“When it comes to IT modernization, it is all about changing the structure, the process, the organization. It is all about change. In fact, I would argue that any IT innovation is really about creating a better organization,” Rogers said Friday at a Lexington Institute summit on IT modernization in Washington.

On the data piece, Rogers said the agency’s ongoing effort migrate to the cloud “creates a fundamental, significant opportunity to attend to our data.”

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“I have a good idea of what’s budgeted for IT, but I have very little visibility into the spend of IT,” Rogers said.

Data accountability serves as one of the three major “gears” under the President’s Management Agenda. The Trump administration plans in January 2019 to release its draft federal data strategy as part of one of the agenda’s cross-agency priority (CAP) goals.

One step toward achieving that data transparency, Rogers said, is integrating the agency’s financial, human resources and logistics systems.

“They’re stovepiped, and they all own the data,” Rogers said. “So how do we leverage this opportunity of migration to attend to this data, normalize it, make it accessible through credentials and rules [and] make sure that we have the right security around it as we host it in different environments? That’s critical to our strategy over the next four years.”

Building up the IT workforce of the future also presents some unique challenges for the State Department.

About 60 percent of them are contract employees, Rogers said, and support a diverse workforce that’s equal parts civil service, foreign service and foreign nationals scattered across its embassies and consulates.

“How do we build, how do we recruit, train and retain those types of workers that have a high degree of technical expertise, but also understand the business, the [service-level agreement] side of the equation,” he said.

Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert, also serving as the acting Office of Personnel Management director, said last month that of the three gears of the PMA — data accountability, IT modernization and the workforce — the administration continues to find itself “stuck on this people stuff.”

While the multi-year hybrid cloud strategy serves as the centerpiece of State’s IT modernization, Rogers also envisions a move toward consuming IT-as-a-service and greater adoption of shared services.

“By the end of next year, 50 percent of my on-prem data centers are empty. I’ll still have high-value assets there, but they will be empty, and the 200 [person] contract workforce that are supporting that, we no longer need, and there’s been a shift of that investment from one of the organization to the other.”

That shift to the cloud, he added, means taking data off-prem from about 300 locations across the globe.

“So I’ve shifted my problem from having on-prem data at-rest that I have to secure and all that, to a connectivity problem,” Rogers said. “We own the last mile in many of the places where we operate overseas, and getting at that data that is now in the cloud creates a connectivity issue that we have to address.”

Part of State’s IT modernization also includes folding cybersecurity into its risk management framework.

“How do we get to ‘yes’ with our customers securely, and how do we not over-secure what doesn’t need to be controlled … but make sure we’ve got our high-value assets controlled with the right controls,” Rogers said.