How data drives IT delivery at State

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Instead of relying on centralized IT management, the State Department is using a data-driven strategy to help its far-flung offices optimize IT operations according to their needs, said the agency's CIO.

"Oversight is not the same as operate. We're a decentralized organization," State Department CIO Stuart McGuigan told an ACT-IAC conference on Jan. 28. "We need to put people and expertise near and close to the customer and the problem. We need to give them enough autonomy to get things done."

McGuigan came to the agency from the commercial side, becoming the agency's CIO last March. He had been vice president and CIO at consumer and health products giant Johnson & Johnson, where he was responsible for IT strategy and operations.

Since coming to the agency, McGuigan said he has been developing an IT maximization process that serves the agency's complex changing mission across the world since he began the job last year.

The process gives bureau IT managers flexibility to adapt their needs to an overarching agency IT strategy, leveraging data gathered across the agency, and not getting bogged down in processes.

"So in 276 posts, we have the raw data that is an index of intent, post-by-post, country-by-country," he said. "It's not just one mission, but the exact focus and constellation of missions. That's the input."

The overarching manager of the process, McGuigan said, is the agency's Information Technology Executive Council, or ITEC, which makes decisions on overall IT mission. Each of the agency's 47 bureaus' IT managers are members of the council, but can decide individually on how they can best serve their bureaus. IT applications and acquisition are guided by hard data gathered from across operations and within bureaus, he said

"We're using data analytics to drive IT strategy in an incredibly rigorous way," McGuigan said. "We're starting out with inputs, which include the country strategy" of each bureau, "to prioritize diplomatic objectives. … Each post is staffed with people that are essential to the unique programs and mission of that post."

The agency is using machine learning-driven analysis of that data to come up the similarities and differences in needs at the posts, he said. "Once we know who's there, and how many there are and what they're doing, we can look at technology—what systems do they use? What data do they use? How many of them are there?" Analyzing that data, he said, shows what technology they're most likely to need in the future.

"If we know the apps and data and the number of people, we can quantify the basic level of infrastructure needed to support that post end-to-end," McGuigan said, including bandwidth needs, mobile devices. "We can go from mission and intent to baseline infrastructure required for each and every post."

Ultimately, collaborative data gathered from the posts could even be leveraged to predict possible events in the area and get ahead of them by setting up resources for the task forces that might be working the issue in place ahead of time.

McGuigan also is looking to make his agency's acquisition process more collaborative and iterative. The agency can already match some industry iterative development capabilities; he said State developed a mobile "talking points" app for its employees to use in five weeks.

The agency is also working to make the next iteration of a primary IT contract, Vanguard, more collaborative with industry on technologies, and possibly include vendor teaming. The agency awarded Vanguard II, a $2.5 billion 10 year contract in 2011 to SAIC. The next iteration is coming in 2021.

"It's a work in progress," McGuigan said of the future contract. "We're looking at more and more of a service and outcome approach to any sourcing."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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