NASA using carrot, not stick in push for shared services

NASA isn’t forcing its centers to move to IT shared services.

Instead, Larry Sweet, NASA’s chief information officer, is trying to make it so attractive that the 18 centers and facilities can’t resist the offer.

“I’ve initiated a program called enterprise first. That’s where we focus first and foremost on our enterprise services, so I want NASA users to first consider the I3P program and consider the services that we offer there. Then we have a shared services center,” Sweet said. “I’m a believer in using shared services for a lot of reasons. One is they can offer a more affordable service to NASA, generally speaking. I want to try to get us up to that 80 percent to 90 percent use of commodity-based IT that is offered through these enterprise services and shared service center.”

Larry Sweet, NASA CIO
The IT Infrastructure Integration program (I3P) offers access to four commodity services contracts for functionality around the end-user, desktop applications and communications. NASA awarded these contracts starting in 2009 and could be worth a combined $4 billion.

But Sweet, who became NASA CIO in June 2013, said he’s not going as far as mandating the use of these services and requiring the centers justify why they wouldn’t use them.

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Instead, he said it’s incumbent on the CIO’s office to make sure the enterprise services meet mission needs first and foremost, and are affordable.

“NASA has a lot of engineers and scientists and they have some very unique requirements that may not be met best with an enterprise service so recognizing that it’s hard for us to mandate the use of that,” Sweet said. “I do think that initiating a program where that is first consideration and stressing the importance of that is the most appropriate way to get compliance to that policy. We do actually have some guidelines out there, but short of maybe a hard policy, but we are moving in that direction so it will be first consideration. If you have requirements that aren’t met, identify those and you can waiver out of that program.”

NASA’s governmentwide acquisition contract, SEWP V, should be the second consideration if the enterprise or shared services doesn’t work.

Sweet said if neither of these two avenues is viable, only then should the center or facility consider a local contract for commodity IT services.

For the most part, NASA centers and facilities are seeing the value of enterprise or shared services. Sweet said NASA already has moved about 70 percent of all commodity IT to I3P or the shared services center.

“We have a few centers that aren’t at the 80 percent level and we have some who are over 80 percent. I think we are moving in that direction,” he said. “Center users see the value in going to enterprise services. They do see it’s a more secure environment. The closer you can get to a one-type of environment, the simpler the environment is to manage and the more efficiently you can secure it.”

He said that was one big reason why I3P is so important to this effort, because it helps usher in the standardization and affordability that comes from enterprise services.

The move to enterprise services also will help NASA address Sweet’s two other priorities: mobility and big data.

Around mobility, Sweet said NASA employees are demanding to use mobile devices to access data and applications anywhere and at any time.

He said mobility also means more use of cloud computing services.

“We believe BYOD, bring-your-own-device, is something we can enable in the NASA environment. Obviously, it has its challenges. We are not there yet,” Sweet said. “We do have some guidelines we put out because a lot of our users have their own cell phones and mobile devices they would like to connect. We are allowing a limited means of connection as long as they can prove to us that they are following some of our guidelines in terms of the use of information on their personal devices.”

The goal is to limit how many devices employees have to use. Sweet said in the future, a goal may be to get down to one device per user, whether it’s a tablet or laptop with softphone capabilities or whatever is the next evolution of mobile devices.

“The folks down at Marshall who run the EAST contract [under I3P] are actually looking at mobile application development. We have a NASA store that users can tap in to and download the latest and greatest mobile apps that we offer up,” he said. “The Jet Propulsion Lab in California has paved a lot of the way for us in terms of mobile apps development.”

Around big data and analytics, Sweet said it’s a priority because of how much information the space agency collects and manages every day.

“We are trying with a data strategy that will get us there and make it more usable for anybody who wants to use it,” Sweet said.

Under NASA open government plan version 3.0 released in June 2014, it plans to develop a big data strategy by 2016.

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