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FCW : December 2013
December 2013 FCW.COM 17 The homegrown cloud serv- ice offered by the Agri- culture Department has deep institutional roots. In 1962 --- in the early days of mainframe computing, punched cards and tape --- then- Secretary Orville Lothrop Freeman wrote a memo warning that USDA was headed down a path of duplica- tive spending on IT programs. The memo was unearthed ear- lier this year by someone in USDA s National IT Center (NITC) around the time the group was pushing for certi cation for its private cloud under the government s Federal Risk and Authorization Manage- ment Program (FedRAMP). In June, USDA s cloud offering became just the sixth infrastructure as a service to receive provisional certi cation under those federal security stan- dards. It joined private-sector giants such as Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, CGI Federal, Autonomic Resources and Lockheed Martin. Jim Steven, USDA s acting associ- ate CIO for data center operations and director of NITC, enjoyed the moment. "People were asking them- selves, Who are these guys from Podunk, Missouri? " he said. Although Kansas City, where NITC is based, isn t exactly Podunk, it is a long way from the Beltway or other national technology clus- ters such as Silicon Valley, Boston and Seattle. But FedRAMP certi - cation was not just a way to show that a homegrown project from a government agency could compete with the big boys. It was also a clear example of how effective a small team can be when it has carefully crafted goals. Ahead of the cloud curve Steven, who is in his 30th year at NITC, began work back in 2007 on what became USDA s cloud service. IT leaders wanted to pare back growth and consolidate sprawling data centers, but they didn t want to simply replace them with a central- 4 keys to better teamwork For a recent report published by the IBM Center for the Business of Govern- ment, Tufts University's Andrea Strimling Yodsampa studied interagency coordi- nation in U.S reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and concluded that effective teams: 1. Meet regularly. "Co-location and con- vening of agency representatives provide opportunities for face-to-face interaction that facilitate joint analysis and planning and foster relationship development and mutual learning, " Yodsampa wrote. 2. Seek consensus on goals and strat- egy. Inclusive planning efforts and well- de ned systems for pooling information enable team members to "develop a shared assessment of the situation, iden- tify common goals, and agree on a joint strategy and division of labor. " 3. Have leaders who serve as facilitators. "Leadership without authority" is crucial, Yodsampa wrote. "Executives should designate impartial, skilled facilitators to guide interagency processes such as joint planning and analysis. " 4. Thrive by delegating. "Delegation of decision-making authority to lower levels is necessary for coordinated results, " Yodsampa wrote, "but it must be paired with professional incentives to coordi- nate and accountability for results --- for example, establishing joint personnel assessment processes in which counter- parts from other agencies can provide input into an individual's personnel evaluations. " Yodsampa also said it was impor- tant to pay attention to individual team members' personalities and the group's dynamics, and to articulate shared goals and priorities from the start. The full report is available at http://is.gd/FCW_IBM_teams. --- Troy K. Schneider ized operation, Steven said. Instead, they approached it as a business problem of how to save money on equipment, power and real estate and make those savings last over time. NITC formed a team to see what could be done internally that would meet all the security requirements and satisfy customers across the agency. The group that initially worked on the project was small: Steven, his counterpart at USDA s National Finance Center, a former senior adviser to the agency CIO and the CIO at the time, Charles Christopherson. They put togeth- er a business case for developing their own internal infrastructure, estimated the costs involved and presented their plan to the USDA secretary during the nal months of the George W. Bush administration. "A secondary bene t [was] secu- rity," Steven said, "but the key thing is cost. You gain a lot by investing in a couple of different platforms ver- sus doing things 34 different ways." In 2008, the team came up with a set of solutions for an internal shared environment that, as Ste- ven said, "morphed into the cloud word." Team members began pro- duction in 2009, with the Foreign Agricultural Service being the first USDA component to adopt the cloud service, and they have enhanced it over time. The agency was two years into its cloud efforts when the Obama administration s 25-point plan for reforming IT management was released in 2010, which meant USDA had a signi cant head start on some of the key goals. And when the FedRAMP requirements were released in 2012, NITC lead- ers quickly began planning how to make certi cation a reality. Almost since the beginning, USDA s cloud service attracted customers from across government. The ability to help other agencies --- rather than the prospect of glory --- is what prompted NITC to seek
November 30, 2013