Government needs agile networks, federal CIOs say

At Brocade's Federal Forum, produced by FedScoop, IT leaders emphasized the need for flexible computing networks as the U.S. faces a mounting cyber threats.

Agencies must develop more flexible networks as they look to update their legacy systems, IT officials said Wednesday during Brocade’s Federal Forum 2015.

“I think we’re entering a period where there’s going to be a new computing platform,” said Health and Human Services CIO Frank Baitman at the Washington, D.C. event, produced by FedScoop. “The focus on technology, the focus on building things custom ways is going away … We’re going to be enabled to focus more on our mission.”

More than 1,100 attendees heard from speakers from all corners of government — including U.S. CIO Tony Scott, Department of Homeland Security CIO Luke McCormack and Commerce Department CIO Steve Cooper — talk about the potential to update the federal government’s IT systems.

Discussion focused on the “New IP,” a term used by Brocade to refer to how an organization’s network must change to accommodate the proliferation of cloud, mobile and big data — particularly using software-defined IT. Speakers also talked more generally about innovative approaches to acquiring technology and modernizing federal networks.


Richard McKinney, the CIO of the Transportation Department, said networks must be updated so that agencies are ready to face challenges ahead.


(l-r) Steve Charles, co-founder of immixGroup; Soraya Correa, chief procurement officer, DHS; Steve Cooper, CIO, Department of Commerce; Richard McKinney, CIO, Department of Transportation. (FedScoop)

“What I have been trying to do is a re-imaging of how we can do infrastructure differently,” McKinney said. “We need to get out of the IT business so the CIOs can sit down with the business units and begin to imagine what the future looks like.”

He added, “Our IT is so needlessly complex and difficult to manage that we spend all of our cycles becoming firefighters. We fight fires all the time because our legacy construct requires that of us.”

Cooper said any network upgrades offer faster IT services will be critical.


“It’s all about quality with speed,” Cooper said. “If I could speed up everything that I’m doing in terms of actually delivering solutions, outcomes and value as defined by my customers … then I can better manage risk.”

Recent security breach hangs over talks

Throughout the Federal Forum, the specter of the recent Office of Personnel Management hack, which compromised the data of millions of current and former federal employees, loomed. Several speakers talked about how updating its existing systems could make federal IT more secure.

“If there’s one takeaway from today’s talk, I hope that it is we need to do a lot more and a lot sooner,” Scott said.


U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott. (FedScoop)


During his keynote, the federal CIO emphasized the need to move away from just having cybersecurity exist as a budget line item. “We need end-to-end security in everything that we do,” Scott said. “The overall mission for cyber is to dramatically reduce the number of cyber incidents that affect government information. This is our most important mission today,” he said.

He also said the government needs digital services teams that focus on everything from cybersecurity to networking and that cybersecurity investments will likely increase as a percentage of overall IT spending.

Brocade presenters argued that using an open platform, as prescribed by their New IP philosophy, could make systems more secure.

“Security now means agility. It’s not locking down a device,” Brocade CEO Lloyd Carney said.

Scott agreed. “My measure of success is speed to market,” he said. “In today’s world, speed means everything.”


Carney, and several other speakers, mentioned that the federal government spends only 20 percent of its IT funding on new systems — and the rest goes toward legacy infrastructure. Carney said that foreign governments like China, which was blamed for the recent breach, are allocating a lot of resources to overtake the U.S. in technology. The U.S. must invest in new systems, he said.

“Too much of what we spend today on networking … is spent maintaining these old platforms,” Carney said.

Improving procurement requires communication

Soraya Correa, chief procurement officer at the Department of Homeland Security, told a panel of IT officials that procurement often “is not as complex as we try to make it out to be.” When asked about the secret to a successful procurement, she said, simply, that procurement officers and IT officials need to talk early and often about what they need to achieve.

“It’s all about understanding what it is we’re trying to do, defining what we’re trying to do, and when we don’t know, when we’re not sure, getting out there, talking to industry — who has done this before, who’s done it for other organizations, companies, state and local government — and learning from them.”


Correa said she and CIO McCormack meet regularly to talk about what he needs and how she can help him get it.

“Luke and I probably talk two or three times a week, and he shares with me his vision, where’s he’s trying to go, what his plans are, what he’s thinking about doing,” Correa said. “Even if he doesn’t really know exactly what he’s trying to do, he starts talking to me early, and I’m starting to think about ways that we can accomplish it.”

As part of the event, Brocade recognized the winners of the Breaking the Status Quo Award, leaders in the public and private sector who have make contributions to federal IT. Homeland Security Department’s Rob Karas, Walter Reed’s William Walders and the Defense Department’s Lt. Col. Ahmed Williamson were selected from 23 federal government nominees. In the industry category, Steve Charles, the co-founder of immixGroup, received the honor.

In all, federal leaders were optimistic about the ways that innovations in IT could better support the work their agencies do.

“I think this is a very exciting time to be in our world,” said Margie Gravies, deputy CIO at DHS. “The innovation we bring to [the agency] really ensures the success of each of our missions.”


Corinne Lestch, Billy Mitchell, Greg Otto, Wyatt Kash, Dan Verton, Jake Williams and Grayson Ullman contributed to this story.

Additional reporting from the Federal Forum 2015

Federal IT isn’t keeping up with new technology – Brocade CEO CEO Lloyd Carney argues the federal government must modernize its legacy IT systems to create stronger defenses against countries using newer technologies.

How the ‘New IP’ can help federal agenciesBrocade said federal agencies that use software-defined networks will get the fast and flexible systems that they have wanted for years.


CIOs turn focus to business outcomes and missionAs they update their IT infrastructure, federal CIOs are beginning to focus on how technology can impact business and mission.

Tony Scott’s plan for restoring confidence in federal cybersecurityThe new U.S. chief information officer outlined his strategy for improving the government’s cybersecurity posture — faster, newer, better.

Agencies using hybrid clouds need orchestration toolsAs agencies expand their IT into multiple clouds, the need for a single, open source orchestration platform is becoming more crucial, a cloud expert argues.

Federal, industry leaders recognized for ‘Breaking the Status Quo’At Brocade’s 2015 Federal Forum, four federal and industry leaders were recognized for their innovative work in government information technology.


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