Here's What the HUD CIO Expects From the Centers of Excellence

Housing and Urban Development

One possible change is standing up a sixth center, David Chow said.

The Housing and Urban Development Department was tapped as the second agency to get assistance with its modernization efforts from the General Services Administration’s Centers of Excellence. While the relationship will be similar to that of the first agency to go through the process—the Agriculture Department—the processes and areas of focus will be different for HUD.

“We’re doing this slightly different than USDA,” HUD Chief Information Officer David Chow told Nextgov. “There’s quite a bit of similarity. But based on our benchmarking with USDA, as well as several conversations with [Agriculture CIO] Gary Washington, we wanted to set this to what was truly needed within HUD.”

Agriculture was the first agency to go through the process, during which GSA stood up five centers focused on core areas for modernization: contact centers, customer experience, cloud adoption, service delivery analytics and infrastructure optimization. The centers’ leads are wrapping up work on phase one of Agriculture’s journey—assessing the needs and opportunities in each area—and is set to begin phase two, in which solutions will be implemented, next month.

As HUD joins the effort, the agency will be leveraging all five centers, Chow said, though in slightly different ways. The agency is also in talks with GSA to stand up a sixth center around cybersecurity.

“We’re tweaking some of the CoE’s scope to sit more aligned to what HUD is looking for from this relationship,” he said. “There have been talks—preliminary conversations—about looking into some sort of a cybersecurity assessment. GSA has been working very closely with [the Homeland Security Department] to look for ways or opportunities that we could potentially create the sixth CoE and make sure we can really go through our security assessments.”

As the process kicks into gear in phase one, Chow said he will be looking to program leads at HUD and their GSA partners to forge the path ahead.

“If you look at large corporations like Verizon or T-Mobile, you see really good customer service simply because there’s one organization. You don’t see different departments” as a customer looking in from the outside, Chow said. “That’s the intent behind having the program leading the assessment area and making sure that the first priority is to look at our business process, improve our business process. Then, based on those requirements we drive to the next phase of the CoE, which is going to be how do we leverage technology to better support the program office?”

The first step in that process will be informal kickoff meetings beginning next week between the HUD program leads and their GSA counterparts. Once the table is set, the real work begins on phase one, which Chow expects will take between six to eight months.

He hopes to be well into phase two by the second quarter of 2019 and have the whole project completed 24 to 30 months from now.

That said, Chow said he’s a proponent of agile development and expects to be able to show early results within six months of starting phase two.

None of this would be possible without the support from HUD leadership, he said, including when it comes to funding.

“This is very exciting. Having the budget to be able to jumpstart the areas that really need improvement,” Chow said, noting the agency was also one of three initial awardees for the Technology Modernization Fund, securing $20 million to migrate five legacy applications. He clarified that these two projects would remain separate lines of effort.

For the Centers of Excellence projects, HUD reprogramed $4 million from accounts across the agency.

“It’s very exciting that I get the buy-in from higher up,” Chow said. “But also having my colleagues who are able to support me in this effort… Especially since I’ve only been here for about a month.”

Along with the overview, Chow offered a glimpse into how HUD plans to work with each center and the agency’s goals for each initiative.

Contact Centers

Chow went first to contact centers as the prime area of focus for HUD’s efforts.

“We’re leveraging the contact Center [of Excellence] to make sure there’s a better experience for the public,” he explained. “Among all the CFO Act agencies, HUD is ranked last for customer service, so this is high priority for the secretary.

“The bottom line is to improve the experience of the citizens when they interact with HUD.”

Customer Experience and Cloud Adoption

Customer experience and cloud adoption are “somewhat related” for HUD, Chow said. “It’s related to going through the process of re-engineering the grants process lifecycle,” a major component of HUD’s mission as an agency.

“This business focus … is to look at ways to improve and consolidate our numerous grant processes throughout the agency to become one HUD,” he said. “In relation to that, cloud adoption [will] look at a technology that is already out in the market, doing the benchmarking and leveraging the business requirements coming from the grants lifecycle process re-engineering and then start designing solutions based on the new process.”

Data Analytics

Like most agencies, HUD components collect a wealth of data through their day to day activities, Chow said. In cooperation with the Center of Excellence focused on data analytics, the agency will look to build better data pipelines and user-friendly dashboards for internal decisions makers, as well as the public.

“For one, we’ll be creating the data governance—making sure that we standardize our data sets,” Chow said. The center will also look at using technologies like artificial intelligence to curate the data and optimize its use for agency decision-makers.

“And once we have that dashboard created, we can provide that information on our website for public consumption,” he added.

Infrastructure Optimization

While this center is generally geared toward IT architecture and environments, HUD plans to take a different tack: looking at the non-technical side of the agency’s IT infrastructure.

“We talked about process, we talked about technology. We haven’t talked about people,” Chow said. “So, the last aspect is really to look at the people that we have and also, obviously, the resources—the contracts and contractors. We’re really looking at ways to retool our staff and also at the same time consolidate that oversight to the CIO and making sure that we optimize our overall environment.”

Chow cited a May executive order signed by President Trump that looked to put more hiring and budgetary authority under department CIOs.

“What we’re looking to do internally is look at the IT resources from the human aspect, as well as from the budgetary aspect,” he said. “This is in support of the executive order to consolidate IT resources under the purview of the CIO.”