Department of the Navy in Good Company in IT Efficiencies Way Ahead
By Jessica Pelenberg - Published, November 18, 2011
As the quest for cost saving efficiencies rages on, three government officials spoke about the challenges their organizations are facing and their plans to tackle them at the Fifth Annual C5ISR Government and Industry Partnership Conference held Nov. 16, in Charleston, S.C.
Terry Halvorsen, Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer, RADM Robert Day, United States Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for C4IT and Chief Information Officer, and Roger Baker, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Assistant Secretary for Information Technology (IT) described the steps their organizations are taking to deal with the challenges of finding efficiencies and responding to budget cuts. The three leaders had some similar ideas despite the differences in their organizational missions and goals.
One year ago, Baker was faced with the task of rebuilding the entire VA IT department while working with a constrained budget and increased demands for services. His three goals were: simplify the GI bill application, reduce veteran homelessness, and create a simplified Veterans Benefits Management System with easy access to benefits and medical records. He met his first goal with an updated GI bill application, developed with the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Command, that reduced application completion time from 45 minutes to seven. This successful partnership led to another with SPAWAR to update the Veterans Benefits Management System. Using the updated system, veterans can now download their benefits information and medical records onto their personal computing devices. A veterans homelessness registry was also created, so that the VA can begin to assist homeless veterans with finding homes. Baker stated that "the goal is to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015."
RADM Day of the Coast Guard is following mandates to consolidate data centers by the year 2015, move enterprise services to a cloud environment, and terminate one-third of all underperforming projects in the next 18 months, while also dealing with budget constraints. Day expressed concerns about the data center consolidation (DCC) goal and stated that he is "trying to move services at every opportunity, but there needs to be a dot mil enclave in the data center for the DHS component." He is most interested in finding an environment where the full suite of enterprise services can be integrated at the right price, and is currently reviewing offerings from commercial sources and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). Day is hopeful that the DISA price, which is higher than the price of similar services elsewhere, will come down as more organizations express interest in the DISA offerings. Reducing the number of customized applications is one of the major challenges Day is struggling with. Day added that all "new environment" applications must be commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software with no customization.
Day is also pursuing the reduction of thick-client desktops, not only as a cost savings initiative, but also because such a reduction will reduce the opportunity for cyber attacks. He believes that most of the work currently being done can be accomplished using a thin-client device. However, those areas that are mission critical, such as cyber systems and processes, will continue to reside on thick-clients.
Halvorsen is certainly aware of these challenging times, as he is charged with reducing the DON IT budget by $2 billion in a time of increasing threat. His goal is to achieve cost savings in business IT that can be applied to continue critical warfighting initiatives while paying down the Department's portion of the national debt. He reiterated that "savings gained from business IT will be used to maintain mission critical IT."
Similar to Day, Halvorsen is working on DCC with plans to reduce the number of DON data centers from 150 to 50 by the end of the Future Years Defense Program. However, there are complications with DCC. The 1,800 applications being run on the DON network need to come down and those remaining need to be moved in a cost effective way. This is important because Halvorsen believes that there is more money to be saved in reducing these applications than in shutting down data centers. Discovering the best method for application reduction will be a key factor in realizing cost-savings for the Department.
Halvorsen is also looking at options for moving enterprise services to the cloud. He says that we must look at all available options to see what makes the most sense, but emphasized that "we are not going to have a single-point solution in any area. It has to be the best solution for the least cost that continues the mission." He reiterated Day's comments that many commands own a lot of customized software, but there is no financial plan that enables the removal of them all at once. He noted: "We need to find a way to move to a COTS environment and backfit it to some of the legacy software that we have today."
Halvorsen also acknowledged that the DON needs to look into the methods being used to purchase software. He proposed moving to a model where software is simply leased and individual licenses are not purchased. "We are looking into this possibility and at how to buy better and buy differently," he said.
In another step toward efficiencies, the Department is going to look at reducing printing. Halvorsen explained that "we can now use multi-function devices that reduce not only printing but faxing as well." The reduction of outdated processes, such as faxing, will play a major role in budget reduction. Print reduction, which may not seem like an area where significant savings can be gained, he said, can generate millions of dollars in savings if applied throughout the DON.
Despite the differences in these three organizations, their goal to achieve IT efficiencies is the same. They are looking to reduce the cost of business IT while ensuring that funds are available to support mission-critical IT.