ATF CIO says technology refresh will push mobile

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives computer overhaul will push mobile technology and operating systems, according to the agency’s chief information officer.

“We’re evolving the sense of technology in our organization, Rick Holgate, ATF CIO, said in an interview on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “Historically, in our last version of technology, we had been primarily relying on laptops a small amount of desktops in our environment. What we’re doing now is expanding our users to a broader choice of devices.”

Rick Holgate, CIO, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
That broader choice will include a leap from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 and tablet devices. Holgate said these new platforms will retire its 5-year old hardware, which started to present security challenges.

“We were starting to see increasing hardware failure, which meant that we had a greater risk of data loss and vulnerability in that sense as well,” Holgate said. Microsoft’s decision to no longer support Windows XP also created a vulnerability for ATF.

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Holgate said ATF started thinking about the refresh in technology around this time last year.

“That put us in a somewhat awkward position in the sense that we were coming out of a year of sequestration, we were going into, at the time an uncertain fiscal year 2014 because we didn’t know how FY 14 budgets were playing out,” Holgate said. “We put in a lot of thought as to how to go about doing that in as cost- conscious a manner as possible, and really eliminating a onetime infusion of money to buy new hardware.

Doing managed services since 1997, Holgate said the agency figured out how to spread out hardware costs over multiple years.

“When we buy the hardware as a service, we don’t incur a onetime cost up front,” Holgate said. “We basically negotiate a cost-as-a-service over a period of time. In this case, it was four years, which allows us to make the cost of hardware much more predictable and avoids us having to absorb a onetime cost in any point in our history. It makes for a much more predictable cost and therefore one that makes it easier for one to plan for in a budget.”

Predictability matters, Holgate said, especially since ATF’s budget has remained mostly unchanged in the past five or six years. The technology refresh program is scheduled for completion by the end of November.

With Windows 8.1, ATF employees will get their first opportunity to touch interface technologies in the workplace, and will be offered a wide choice of devices — including tablets.

Smartphones running on Windows 8.1 and a few iPads have also been purchased in the agency’s tech overhaul.

“We had to expose our users to what these devices operated like. Frankly, some of our users were not that familiar with tablets, but we did a road and gave them a chance to get hands-on experience with the devices and get to experience the possibility of the devices in the future,” Holgate said. “Right now, we’ve got roughly 3,300 venues in our environment, which is a pretty significant penetration in our device mix.”

That being said, Holgate said ATF still relies on a lot of desktop-based applications. Moving those applications to a touchscreen-based platform, however, depends on getting workers familiar with the products.

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