Federal CIO Unveils Initiative To Push XML, Virtualization, Agile In IT Planning

The CIO of the U.S. government unveiled in Silicon Valley this week Future First, an initiative in which the newest approaches to developing information technology would be leveraged to run federal agencies.

October 28, 2011

3 Min Read
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The CIO of the U.S. government unveiled in Silicon Valley this week Future First, an initiative in which the newest approaches to developing information technology would be leveraged to run federal agencies. CIO Steven VanRoekel said that Future First would embrace a number of emerging technology standards to make federal IT more uniform and efficient.

Planning of IT projects would be done on a more modular basis rather than in a linear fashion, in which a technology project takes so long to complete that the technology is obsolete by the time the project is approved. VanRoekel unveiled the initiative at an event hosted by the Churchill Club, a public affairs organization in Silicon Valley.

He spoke at the Palo Alto Research Center, which is part of Xerox. He said Future First should consider whether federal government should write all documents in XML so they are all machine-readable, adopt virtualization for more efficient utilization of servers, and use the agile development process in creating software or concentrate on delivering Web services.

VanRoekel invited his audience of about 250 people to propose ideas. "This is where I expect all of you to step up on behalf of your country to help us understand what should be in Future First," he said.

The government is already adopting virtualization to make more efficient use of IT. The CIO is heading up a consolidation project to reduce the number of federal data centers from 2,800 today to 1,800 by the end of 2015, which is projected to save $5 billion to $6 billion.

The government has also adopted a Cloud First policy, which dovetails with virtualization, he said in an interview. "Do I do that virtualization work on premise or do I host it somewhere else with a third party? With Cloud First, you’re going to get certain scale efficiencies because instead of running my 10,000 mailboxes they’re running a million mailboxes, so it’s going to get you better efficiency and lower cost," VanRoekel said

The U.S. Department of Agriculture saved money by consolidating 21 different email systems into one delivered from the cloud. "The Secretary of Agriculture couldn’t even send an email to all employees of USDA without someone in IT copying and pasting the email to bridge across all those systems," he said. Consolidation reduced the cost of administering the USDA’s email to $8 per month per mailbox, from $24 before.

President Barack Obama is the first U.S. president to create the position of CIO in the executive branch, and VanRoekel is the second person to serve in that position, having been appointed to the post by the president Aug. 5. The role of the CIO is to oversee the development and procurement of IT to run the government, which spends $80 billion per year on IT and serves 6.5 million end users. Obama is also the first president to appoint a federal chief technology officer (CTO), whose job is to work with tech companies to evangelize the best use of technology, such as promoting wider access to broadband.

Last week, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying federal agency CIOs are limited by current law in doing their jobs. Earlier, VanRoekel urged federal agencies to use online identity credentials from third parties to reduce IT costs.

In addition to using technology standards, VanRoekel said Future First also aims to improve the IT procurement process by sharing resources and other ideas across agencies. Hiring could be made more flexible so that fellowships could be granted to graduate students to work on a project, and the government could establish the "entrepreneur-in-residence" program model common in Silicon Valley companies to bring in a subject matter expert on a project without going through a lengthy hiring process.

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