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CIOs look to shared IT services for government agencies

Kenneth Corbin | Sept. 17, 2013
In a bid to contain costs and glean greater efficiencies from their IT operations, department and agency federal CIOs in U.S. are looking to consolidate commodity services in a more centralised framework.

Commerce Department Weighs In
Last year, the acting secretary of Commerce issued a directive that gave Szykman additional authorities to oversee the department's IT portfolio in areas such as setting standards and architecture and rolling out shared services.

Szykman, in turn, delegated some of those authorities to bureau CIOs to help them consolidate their oversight of their organization's IT operations. He explains that IT efficiencies are an area of keen concern within Commerce because, though it doesn't rank among the largest IT spenders within the government, the percentage of its overall budget devoted to technology is among the highest of all the departments.

The benefits of shared services could extend beyond cost savings and operating efficiencies, Szykman says. By consolidating the federal technology portfolio and reducing the number of disparate applications running in departments and agencies, the feds could also improve their security posture, always an area of high concern in government IT.

"By aggregating systems and consolidating them, we're better able to secure them," Szykman says. To that end, Commerce this year rolled out continuous monitoring as its first department-wide shared service.

Shared Services Not Right for Every Bureau
Szykman allows that while commodity operations like email, Web hosting and the help desk might be well-suited to the shared-services model, many more elaborate, mission-specific applications will inevitably remain unique to the various bureaus. After all, the applications in use by the scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are very different from those running at the patent office.

"I'm a strong believer that the right answer is not to consolidate 100 percent of IT up to the department level, particularly in an organization such as Commerce where there is so much mission diversity," he says. "I do think that it's natural and appropriate for the mission-related IT to remain close to where the mission is down in the bureau level."

But at the bureaus, Szykman is pushing for more centralized authorities for the CIO, which he sees as the clearest path to moving out of the stovepiped model for IT services that has taken hold throughout Commerce and other departments.

"Within the bureaus there's been some efforts moving toward consolidated services," Szykman says. "Within bureaus there's been a lot of effort to pull things up to the CIO level, at least in the areas that are commoditized, and start pulling together distributed services into shared services, in part for efficiency purposes, but also in part just to improve the quality of many of these services."


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