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IT Reform at the U.S. Department of Commerce

Portrait of Szykman

Guest blog by Simon Szykman, Chief Information Officer at the Department of Commerce

The IT community at the U.S. Department of Commerce has been hard at work implementing Federal IT Reform as outlined by U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra last December. After only six months, our list of accomplishments is impressive, but there is still much to be done to meet the ambitious goals set forth in the 25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal IT Management. The plan represents not just a change in strategy, but a change in thinking among the technology leaders in the administration and at the Commerce Department. Moving toward a leaner, cloud-driven and collaborative approach is a significant shift in philosophy, and we are aggressively incorporating these ideas into our strategic IT planning process. To date, we have closed six Commerce data centers, with a total of nine scheduled to be closed by the end of the year. Consolidating data centers will significantly lower the agency’s carbon footprint, save us millions of dollars each year, and allow for more effective use of resources as we streamline our infrastructure to become more efficient. Every major change presents both challenges and opportunities, and we are taking full advantage of this opportunity to enhance the security of the department’s IT operations while also improving our performance. During the 2010 Census, cloud computing enabled us to handle a once-in-a-decade peak in demand (over five million hits per week) for Census information without having to add permanent capacity. By harnessing the power of the cloud, we were able to offer a compelling set of blogs, videos and interactive tools that encouraged participation in the Census. With several more projects in the pipeline, we continue to pursue the goal of thinking “Cloud First” when it comes to IT.

Two months ago, the department held its first TechStat meeting to address underperforming investments. A closer look at the National Weather Service’s Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) project illuminated the need for both an on-site project manager and a higher degree of subject-matter expertise for the specialized technical work associated with the effort. This sort of focused scrutiny is exactly what is needed to ensure that critical projects remain on track. The Commerce Department is currently assessing many of its major IT investments to determine which ones will benefit from a TechStat reviews. Other initiatives that we have undertaken to enhance productivity and performance include the establishment of an Enterprise Risk Management function. Together, these steps are helping to create a holistic framework that will improve management and oversight of our IT programs.

The department is also moving forward aggressively on strategic sourcing initiatives aimed at reducing the cost of purchasing commodity products at Commerce and improving efficiencies. Three of the initial areas where we are executing new strategically sourced contracts involve IT products and services.

Lastly, because IT requires a multi-year planning process, there is an inevitable lag in the ability to change major programs. The changes to our three-year planning process that have been sparked by IT reforms are where the most permanent and significant impacts of this shift in philosophy will be felt. As these reforms advance, the benefits to the efficiency and effectiveness of government-wide operations will become widespread and long-lasting. It will take steadfast commitment and unprecedented interagency collaboration to fully internalize these management reforms, but I am confident that the Commerce Department team is up to the challenge.

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