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Join Nextgov and Defense One on Feb. 10: Tech Modernization in Focus

By Frank Konkel // February 5, 2016

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Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott has repeatedly called the government’s legacy technology problem “bigger than Y2K.”

The problem is simple to explain but complex to address: 75 percent of the government's $80 billion IT budget is spent on archaic systems, or what’s referred to by many as “keeping the lights on.”

Some of these systems are almost hilariously out of date, as a forthcoming Government Accountability Office report will highlight: 28 systems are at least 25 years old. Yet, many are mission critical systems that aren’t easily moved to modern architectures. That challenge is amplified by budget-tightening and stagnant tech funding in recent years.

However, there are glimmers of modernization efforts within government.

The Federal Communications Commission, for example, plans to move its IT entirely to the cloud by the end of 2017. The leader behind that effort, Chief Information Officer David Bray, invested resources in top talent and then technology – in that order – to begin the effort driven in part by a realization that FCC’s headquarters were being forced to move.

Another bold idea, led by Frank Konieczny, one of U.S. Air Force’s top tech officials, would see the military department...

How Do You Govern Data in the Internet of Everything?

By Frank Konkel // February 2, 2016

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Today’s increasingly connected world has the federal government reacting to a level of connectivity that was unimaginable only a decade ago.

By 2020, more than 200 billion sensors will produce data on everything from human hearts to heavy construction equipment to ocean seafloors -- and all of it will flow through the Internet.

Technologists call it the Internet of Things or the Internet of Everything, but semantics aside, it’s both an exceedingly large challenge and significant opportunity for federal agencies.

Because their missions directly impact 300 million Americans – more two-thirds of whom own smartphones – federal agencies are also among the largest data producers and collectors. That means the effects of exponential data growth are magnified among agencies.

The Internet of Everything has most agencies in reaction mode. On one hand, they’re juggling how to implement technologies that make better use of the growing amount of data available, battling old acquisition policies and navigating bureaucratic seas.

On the other, they’re figuring out how to implement governance policies and implement new laws, like the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which ensure public information remains as transparent as possible

It’s not an easy tightrope to walk.

On Thursday, join...

What Will OMB's New Requirements Do for Federal Customer Service?

By Frank Konkel // January 28, 2016

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This week at Government Executive, John Kamensky highlighted a directive in the 2016 consolidated appropriations bill directing the Office of Management and Budget “to report on agencies’ progress in developing customer service standards and incorporating them into their performance plans.”

The directive is a strong signal from the House appropriations committee that the government’s efforts to improve customer service following an executive order in 2011 have not gone far enough.

Bad news stories in federal customer experience are a dime a dozen. The Internal Revenue Service’s inability to answer taxpayers’ calls last tax season is just one of many examples where federal customer experience falls short of what customers tend to experience when they order from Amazon or book a trip to Disney World.

Is this requirement a fix-all for the government’s customer experience woes?

Probably not, but like many big ideas forged in federal bureaucracy, it’s a start.

Rick Parrish, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, said he was “very happy to see Congress take an interest” in federal customer experience, but tempered his optimism.

Many agencies, he said, saw President Barack Obama’s executive order in 2011 “as a box-checking exercise” and said many...

Buying Cloud Services: What the U.S. Can Learn from the UK

By Frank Konkel // January 26, 2016

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James Bond would never wait nine months or more to buy certain forms of cutting-edge IT services, so why does the U.S. government?

The UK government – home to the real-life secret agency, MI6, where the fictional Bond worked – is better at acquiring and putting to use cloud computing and other IT services than its American counterparts.

That thanks in part to a special initiative -- known as the G-Cloud contract -- designed to make it easier for government agencies to connect with cloud providers.

Through its Digital Marketplace, British government agencies have access to a comprehensive listing of cloud service suppliers available through pre-vetted vendors working on six-month acquisition cycles.

Created in 2012, the cloud marketplace’s popularity not only attracted vendor support – it now boasts 1,200 suppliers and 13,000 services – but also alleviated major acquisition headaches the UK government previously faced implementing cloud services.

News of its growing success has reached across the pond.

“In the UK, the G-Cloud contract completely disrupted the way they do acquisitions in the government,” said Teresa Carlson, vice president of Amazon Web Services’ worldwide public sector business.

Carlson oversees Amazon’s global public sector cloud business, including its position as a supplier...

Industry Group Weighs In: FedRAMP Needs Fixing

By Frank Konkel // January 25, 2016

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The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program needs an overhaul to better make use of the “do once, use many times” cloud security certification process, according to an industry advocacy group report.

The report, released today by the FedRAMP Fast Forward group, outlines a six-point plan that could help make the government’s process for authorizing cloud services cheaper, more efficient and more transparent, the group argues.

Recommendations from the report:

  • Normalize the certification process. Cloud service providers can take several routes to an authority-to-operate, and not all are seen as equal. That fundamentally undermines the value proposition of the FedRAMP program, according to the industry group.
  • Increase transparency about the approval process, including what it takes to gain approval, and the time and costs involved.
  • Harmonize security standards, so cloud providers can meet some FedRAMP requirements through compliance with existing international and privacy standards.
  • Reduce the cost of continuous monitoring for cloud providers that have achieved an ATO.
  • Enable providers to upgrade their cloud environments while remaining compliant with FedRAMP requirements.
  • Help cloud providers map their FedRAMP compliance to Defense Department security requirements, rather than forcing them to start over again to obtain the ability to provide cloud services...