The Department of Health and Human Services is planning to roll out a new cloud-based email system later this year. But in doing so, the agency has also set its sights on another, more important, goal: improving collaboration and bringing the agency together.
“By having one place that we all go to in the cloud, it isn’t just about email — it’s about collaboration,” HHS chief information officer Frank Baitman told FedScoop. “You get many other things. You get Microsoft Office in the cloud. You get Sharepoint in the cloud. You get chat in the cloud. Those things are not available at the enterprise level today at HHS because we have security and firewalls all over the department that prevent someone in one operating division from looking at the intranet in another operating division.”
Another added benefit, the CIO said, is the reduction of maintenance and operating work. Instead of hiring IT professionals dedicated to ensuring an email system —Baitman said HHS had six email systems when he first joined as CIO in 2012 — is up and running properly, that’s now Microsoft’s job, he said.
“One of the things we determined very quickly was that by outsourcing email to a cloud service provider, even the best operated email system in the department can be done more efficiently by outsourcing it,” said Baitman, a recent FedScoop 50 winner.
“I’m a big, big, big supporter of cloud. I’m a big supporter of as-a-service offerings,” he said. “I think that the way the federal government develops applications, systems is unbelievably inefficient and ineffective, and we have large-scale systems across the federal government that we spend hundreds of millions, sometimes billions, of dollars on that are never delivered.”
Outsourcing the technology is one way to address that.
“If I outsource that, I don’t have to worry about upgrades anymore, I don’t have to worry about having expertise in managing an email system anymore, that’s all outsourced to someone who lives and breathes email day in and day out,” he said.
HHS’ Office of the Inspector General paved the way for Microsoft 365 to be the first cloud-based email service to be authorized to operate under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) last November. According to the FedRAMP website, the Office 365 system was developed specifically for the federal government.
“The government specific instances are designated for the sole use of U.S federal, tribal, state, and local government customers, U.S. government contractors, and Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs),” according to the website. “Office 365 delivers customers with familiar productivity, communication and collaboration capabilities all in a service that is reliable, secure and able to rapidly scale up or down to meet variable resource demands.”
HHS will rely on InfoReliance, a Fairfax, Virginia, IT consulting firm with strong ties to Microsoft Corp., to help migrate the department’s former email services to Microsoft 365. HHS awarded the company a $92 million, five-year blanket purchase agreement to help with the transition in November.
FedScoop recently caught up with Baitman to talk about his IT plans for HHS in 2015, much of which followed a common theme: consolidation.