Networks must be ‘reimagined’ during IT modernization, federal leaders say

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With technology constantly evolving, the need to modernize is critical, a panel of federal IT leaders said Tuesday. 

Speaking at the Federal Forum, presented by Brocade and produced by FedScoop, Margie Graves, the acting deputy administrator for the Office of E-Government and IT in the Office of Management and Budget, talked about the potential of the proposed $3.1 billion IT modernization fund to help agencies make those dramatic IT changes — as well as her agency’s own efforts to update. 

“We know we have starved our infrastructure for last five, if not more, years,” said . 

For now, OMB will focus on specific technological improvements within its networks, such as cloud access and cybersecurity, Graves said. She described her agency’s strategy as working from the “outside-in.”

“What I mean by that is we’re all working in hybrid environments and we’re trying to peel the layers off our legacy environments and push some of those either to shared services or to the cloud,” she said. “And in order to be able to effectively operate in these two environments, you’ve got to be able to have the appropriate transport, and the network is absolutely integral to that.” 

For the Department of Agriculture, updating legacy IT means simplifying its infrastructure. Agency CIO Jonathan Alboum said during the panel that, in the past, USDA had established 17 IT networks, making its system complex and difficult to secure. Now, the agency is working working to remove unnecessary networks. 

Indeed, agencies must “reimagine” their networks as they find ways to better serve their citizens, Social Security Administration CIO Rob Klopp said. That might mean looking to the private sector to find ways to innovate

He said for public-facing agencies like SSA, online forms quickly are becoming a thing of the past. His agency is looking at Apple’s voice-activated virtual assistant Siri or Microsoft’s equivalent Cortana as a model for interacting with customers in the future, he said.

At the same time, advances in technology has his organization rethinking traditional hardware, like routers and telephone switches. 

“We’re about to head into this gigantically exciting software-defined networking where I think all of that hardware disappears because a piece of software that runs in a container in your cloud,” Klopp said.

But to pursue such advances, agencies need to determine what kind of network bandwidth is required. Just like trying to select the right mobile data plan, it can be difficult to predict what the future could hold, he said. But this work is essential, he said. 

“Not too far into the future … we will be face to face with the public over the network,” he said.

Contact the reporter on this story via email: Jeremy.Snow@FedScoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyM_Snow. Sign up for the Daily Scoop — all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning — here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Agencies, Army, Cloud, Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Defense (DOD), Departments, Government IT News, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Tech
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