State Department Expands Foreign Affairs Network Adoption

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The Foreign Affairs Network, one of the State Department’s highest information technology priorities this year, is facing perhaps its most challenging steps in the coming months, Chief Information Officer Susan Swart tells FedScoop.

The network, also known as FAN, creates a single unclassified network to facilitate information sharing for the more than 40 government agencies with foreign affairs missions, many of whom currently run their own systems. That set-up can make information sharing tricky at times.

Swart said a number of agencies are already up and running, such as the Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, but in January the U.S. Agency for International Development, with the State Department, will undergo three large overseas pilots over a four-month period to see if the FAN is a fit for USAID. It will easily be the largest agency to join the project, excluding State, with hopes that USAID can be fully online by 2014.

FAN utilizes IT to empower diplomacy, development, and other USG services by providing access to information and technology services anytime and at any mission site. State is making significant headway in redesigning its networks to support the FAN—ensuring security, redundancy, and performance anywhere around the globe and will capitalize on centralized and regionalized network services as appropriate.

“Our goal is to create a system that works with everyone’s business needs, not to create a ‘my way or the highway’ type approach,” said Swart, who we named one of the most 10 influential women in government IT in 2011.

FAN is just one of several initiatives Swart is currently undertaking.

For instance, she said the department is busy following the mandates of the Office of Management and Budget’s 25 Point Implementation Plan To Reform Federal IT Management and is ahead of the curve on data center consolidation.

The agency originally hosted its servers at the department headquarters, but as space and power became an issue it began moving them to an off-site location. They are currently consolidating 15 data centers into four domestically (they are also looking an international data centers, but that’s a longer-term effort).

As for the cloud, Swart said the agency is not moving any enterprise services to the public cloud right now and don’t have any upcoming large investment decisions that would drive that. Swart said she still has concerns about the cloud in regards to security and the highly sensitive information the agency manages.

She did add, though, that a number of public-facing projects are in the cloud, but email and infrastructure as a service are a ways away.

Swart said the department is about to expand its availability of mobile devices as employees will soon be able to connect to the State Department networks with any device that can download the agency’s remote access receiver and meet security qualifications.

“The idea is to give flexibility to employees,” Swart said. “Our goal is to become device agnostic so we can allow our employees to use the most popular devices available today along with being able to adapt to what will be popular years down the road.”

One main issue, Swart said, is arranging the support structure as help desk employees will no longer have full knowledge of each device as they would with a more limited selection.

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Agencies, Departments, Government IT News, Management & Budget, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), State Department, Susan Swart
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