Food and Nutrition Service uses cloud to help people eat healthier

Jonathan Alboum, CIO, Food and Nutrition Service

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Jonathan Alboum is the chief information officer of the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service.

He’s played a big role in the Apps for Healthy Kids program.

Today he tells us about how they’re looking at cloud computing and other Web 2.0 technologies in order to better serve their customers.

FCB: How are you guys implementing [2.0] at the Food and Nutrition Service?

JA: If you want to think about something like cloud computing — I know it’s a buzz word and there’s going to be pros and there’s going to be cons and evangelists and whatnot, but I think it has a lot of potential. We can cut down on having to build these servers and create an infrastructure to run our applications if we can leverage something the department has or another organization has conceptually. It’s going to to make my job easier and it’s going to help me be less focused on operations, because we’re kind of outsourcing that factor.

We have actually a good story, I think, around a recent application in cloud computing. We recently added a cool function to our website where people that are interested can go to the FNS website and go to the SNAP page and then use a tool we’ve developed to find all the retailers in a particular zip code or near an address that takes those benefits.

It’s a pretty complicated GIS solution and there’s lots of data involved. Instead of building the infrastructure to run this, we’re running it in the Amazon cloud. We were able to put it up there very quickly. We didn’t have to procure the servers. We were just buying a service from Amazon and it seems to be working very well. I think it’s a good model that we might follow again or other agencies can follow to host a fairly complex solution in a pretty short order.

FCB: The interesting thing about this is it’s a public facing site. It has public data on it, so really your risk from a security standpoint is low.

JA: We would think that it would be pretty low, so it was a good candidate to be hosted in this cloud. We were very comfortable with that decision.

FCB: One of the biggest challenges for all agencies with cloud computing is that security. What do we put in the cloud? You saw, for instance, go to the cloud earlier this year, and there’s a lot to do, but it’s a public website. It’s all public data. . . . You don’t ever want to get hacked, but that plays into your decision, we imagine, to a certain extent.

JA: It certainly does. Again, the starts kind of have to align and I don’t think that cloud computing is going to solve every problem that every CIO has, but it’s a tool that I think we need to consider as we’re evaluating different solutions.

Hear more of this conversation on Ask the CIO on Federal News Radio.