By Kitty Nix, Senior Vice President, Services DivisionKitty Nix Headshot

I joined Three Wire Systems to advance my career in Information Technology and help grow a company on the cutting edge of mission-driven solutions. We all know that outdated technology platforms and limited budgets have slowed the long overdue and much-needed process of innovation in the federal government. As Suzette Kent, the new US CIO, discussed at FedScoop’s Second Annual IT Modernization Summit (on April 5, 2018), the White House and Congress have taken strides to help agencies combat their IT Modernization challenges – including new legislation, policy, and funding – thus creating an opportunity to “turbo boost” modernization efforts.

Recently, I was honored to contribute to this important movement, by moderating the NexGen Shared Services panel at the aforementioned summit, sharing the stage with two of the Top 100 Women in IT, to discuss the importance of shared services, and how increased collaboration among stakeholders, “acquisition baked into agile development”, and technologies like containers are significant enablers to IT Modernization.

The panelists included:

  • Beth Angerman – Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Shared Solutions and Performance Improvement, GSA
  • Soraya Correa – Chief Procurement Officer, DHS
  • Banjot Chanana – Senior Director of Product Management, Docker

Key Messages for the IT Modernization Space

Despite the short amount of time allotted for the panelists to discuss these important topics, the panelists shared some insightful key messages (and a few fun facts about themselves) for everyone in the IT Modernization space.

When it comes to measuring the success of shared services, Beth reminded all of us that it’s a perfect time to take stock in what has been done in the past, and how we need to pivot to effectively move forward. She offered that measuring success is tied to driving standardization, eliminating redundant systems to maximize economic benefit and to create better and more consistent data for the government.

“The heart of measuring success [of shared services] is collaborating with the user and understanding their pain points, figuring out this problem at the beginning and how to engage in what is going to make you successful.”

Beth Angerman

She also clarified that an important aspect of measuring success is to better collaborate with the business to determine how each agency defines and measures their own accomplishments because every agency has different missions and rules. Put another way, modernizing IT for the sake of modernizing IT is not the answer.

Beth discussed that at the heart of our modernization efforts are the users. No matter how beneficial the new technology can be, and how secure we can make it if the users of that technology are not ready or “bought-in” prior to its release, it will likely lead to failure. She shared an excellent comparison to her husband upgrading her iPhone without telling her! Although she knew it would be more secure and potentially better experience for her, she was immediately irritated as she wasn’t ready for the sudden change from her normal routines. For example, she had not moved all the photos she wanted to the cloud; this was a key factor that delayed updates to the software in the first place. A critical success factor for modernization projects is ensuring there is clear communication before (modernization) efforts are underway. Beth shared a great personal anecdote of how modernization affects each and every one of us, in both our personal and professional lives. Thanks, Beth! Loved your fun fact that you’ve got two little ones at home, I completely understand the need to keep those photos!

 “It’s a strategy to look at how DHS is approaching their acquisitions to ensure they’re not just buying the right things but buying them smartly and efficiently.”

– Soraya Correa

A trailblazer and innovator in the Federal IT Acquisition world – Soraya Correa – is leading the way in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), by starting the conversation with industry earlier (much earlier), to listen and learn about the art of the possible. She feels it is critical to know what is available in the market, which helps agencies more clearly define and determine what problem they are solving and what solution they’re working towards. Having these conversations earlier across the federal marketplace could help industry “down select” themselves prior to an acquisition even being released, thereby reducing risks, avoiding undue costs for both parties, and ultimately providing the customer what they need to accomplish their mission set.

To test this hypothesis, Soraya established and is leading the Procurement Innovation Lab, commenting that it’s a place where DHS can try new procurement techniques and approaches. She emphasized that there is little to no value in issuing a procurement that takes 2-3 years to award. Soraya is leading the charge at DHS, working to engage industry early and often, and collaborating with the business owners to make sure the “current state” is benchmarked and the problem adequately defined. Also, it was also inspiring to hear that in Soraya’s spare time, she mentors as much as she can to build and empower others. Something much needed in our community!

Another key and crucial point from the federal panelists (Soraya and Beth), which I also wholeheartedly believe, is that the government should not develop anything to meet their requirements if they can buy a solution off the shelf. It’s imperative that agencies take a step back, break apart the problem, and determine if there is a solution already available to meet their needs. If the solution and technology already exist, the government can buy it and then share the risk with industry.

An Industry View on Shared Services

Switching to an industry view on shared services, I asked Banjot Chanana from Docker for his perspectives. Every decade or so, we’ve experienced a paradigm shift, from mainframes to client-server to virtualization to the most recent shift to the Cloud, and now a new breed of technologies such as Containers show promising benefits. Banjot sees containers fitting into this evolution very naturally, commenting that while it has been exciting to see all of the innovations, they’re not new. Containers have been at the center of the major shifts to the Cloud and DevOps, enabling the agility that has come from these movements. In the private sector, these capabilities have enabled organizations to move their applications into the cloud while removing some of the friction in their development process.

“You can do things In a container environment that you couldn’t do before. The level of visibility into the running application and how it’s performing and the types of operations its performing and the ability to enforce policy in those containers is now something we’ve never seen in previous technology.”

– Banjot Chanana

Specifically, Banjot covered how Containers have actually provided three significant benefits for shared services:

  1. Removing friction in the development process (adopted by millions of developers and IT professionals) allowing for closer collaboration between users, developers, and operators;
  2. Containers bring a whole new level of security to an operating environment where we can standardize what an application can and cannot do, and;
  3. the ability to standardize.  One of the most important things about the shared services environment is the way we scale.  We can now scale by standardizing the way we deploy applications, the way we run them, the way we enforce Service Level Agreements (SLAs), and the way we enforce security.

Now with Container technology, we can standardize how we deploy, operate, install and even scale out or scale back, and it works well for new and existing applications. Banjot’s most resounding message was how Container technology can be leveraged to move shared services forward.  An interesting fun fact about Banjot is that he has a twin brother he’s kept in step with all his life and who, coincidentally, works in digital modernization while Banjot works in IT Modernization. Twinning has a whole new meaning for me now!

I couldn’t help but close with a question about the MGT Act that recently passed, asking how Beth and Soraya planned on using it.  Soraya let us know that DHS is looking closely at how they are implementing Modernization projects. Further commenting that since DHS is a federated environment, they need to work together to develop smart solutions. Soraya herself is working closely with the DHS CFO, and the rest of the C-suite, to look at DHS’s priorities. It’s critical to identify what they want to attack first, and then focus on bringing the rest of the DHS community along. She noted that it’s not just a headquarters focus, rather the modernization efforts are for everyone who works and supports DHS.  Soraya is pushing DHS to think strategically and ahead of the curve, noting she wants to implement shared services the right way, and to ultimately do intelligent things within the government, to improve data and systems, and ultimately improve the experience for end users.

Beth does not intend to use the fund but plans to assist other federal agencies in thinking about how they are going to use the resources, and how they will repay the funds they borrow. A key factor in the MGT Act will be ensuring agencies identify what success looks like. Beth shared that GSA has a lot of best practices in place to help agencies effectively articulate the success criteria, in order to secure the approvals required to utilize the MGT funds.

Optimism Moving Forward 

I feel energized and optimistic after hearing from these forward-thinking government and industry leaders, who are all on the same page about how we need to move forward, and all have some great ideas on how we get there. I thank my panelists for taking the time to share their experience and insights on this very important matter and thank Three Wire’s co-sponsor, DELL EMC,  for this panel discussion, and for helping to bring this important information to focus. I hope this information energizes you just as it did me!

For more information about Three Wire’s IT Modernization efforts, please contact Kitty Nix.

About Three Wire Systems

Founded in 2006, Three Wire is the leader in innovative and efficient technology solutions for government agencies and large enterprise corporations. With solid program management and process improvement principles, they design solutions that support business goals and deliver superior results in a cost-efficient manner. Three Wire believes in maximizing investments American taxpayers have already made in the government and military while modernizing and securing America’s most important information, infrastructure, and assets. For more information about Three Wire, visit https://www.threewiresys.com/.

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