HHS set to launch virtual desktop pilot

2013_02_frankbaitman HHS Chief Information Officer Frank Baitman (Photo: David Stegon/FedScoop)

The Department of Health and Human Services plans to launch a virtual desktop infrastructure pilot next month in the Office of the Secretary that will act as a proving ground of sorts for VDI in the rest of the department, HHS Chief Information Officer Frank Baitman told FedScoop.

As the departmental CIO, Baitman handles information technology policy, but is also the operational CIO for the office of the secretary and a number of the smaller operating divisions. At approximately 10,000 users, it gives him the opportunity to test and showcase different technologies before rolling them out to other parts of the agency.


With VDI, Baitman plans to deploy Windows 7 to the office of the secretary’s user base and create a virtual environment that can be better managed at a more cost effective price. In the future, he can then take the lessons learned to the rest of the department’s offices and sub-agencies for implementation.

“What projects like this will do is build confidence for the rest of the department that the technologies we’re bringing in will work, and can help us to greatly improve how we do our jobs,” said Baitman who has been the HHS CIO for almost a year now after previously serving as the entrepreneur in residence at the Food and Drug Administration and the CIO of the Social Security Administration.

Baitman said that HHS – as an organization – has varying levels of capability thanks to a federated structure, with IT shops that have operated autonomously, making use of separate appropriations at HHS’ operating divisions and programs. His goal is to increase the baseline of technologies available to all the offices to put in place standards that improve collaboration and the sharing of public health information.

For example, in a few weeks Baitman plans to launch a telework pilot that will install presence, a capability where teleworking employees can see when another employee is available thanks to a button near their name (think of the chat function in Gmail). Baitman is also looking to increase the number of collaboration tools available to the department.

“A number of the different sub-agencies have collaboration tools, but they’re not available agency-wide,” said Baitman, noting that it would be greatly beneficial for different organizations to share information, especially when it comes to linking medical research with health outcomes.


Baitman said a lot of the collaboration tools will be taken care of when the department gets a new email system, something that the department committed to through the PortfolioStat process. Baitman said he’ll almost assuredly outsource that, along with the department’s human resources system with the next year or two.

“Things like email and HR – those are not your core competency if you’re a researcher at NIH or a claims processor at CMS,” Baitman said. “What we want to do is put those things in the hands of organizations that handle hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of accounts, so we can focus more energy and resources on our public health mission.”

When it comes to trends, Baitman said the biggest one he sees is around big data. He said HHS has been a leader when it comes to liberating data – think back to the days when Todd Park was the agency’s chief technology officer – and those efforts are continuing to bear fruit under HHS CTO Bryan Sivak.

Baitman says that as more data is liberated from siloed systems, the public will find interesting uses for it—uses we haven’t yet imagined. He thinks this process will change government itself, because he believes information is power. As entrepreneurs and public health professionals find meaning from data sets that are mashed together, the focus will shift from the control of information to the improved outcomes it enables.

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