HHS goes from reluctant to eager cloud adopter

Editor’s Note: HHS CIO Beth Killoran participated in an Ask the CIO online chat on March 28.  Sign up today to read the transcript.

To say the Department of Health and Human Services has been behind the cloud curve wouldn’t be an understatement.

HHS faced the Office of Management and Budget during a PortoflioStat session in 2015 and reported just 1 percent of all systems in the cloud — second to last across all of the major agencies. OMB had set a goal for agencies to move at least 20 percent of all systems to these public, private or hybrid cloud providers.

Beth Killoran, the HHS chief information officer since July 2016, said less than two years later, HHS has gone from a reluctant cloud adopter to an eager one.

“As we have been moving some of our email-as-a-service and a couple of other capabilities, that has improved [acceptance of the cloud] and in some cases some organizations’ funding has driven that,” Killoran said during her interview on Ask the CIO. “Over the last year we have increased our cloud from that 1 percent to over 18 percent. If we continue on the track that we have for this year, we should achieve and surpass the OMB goal of 20 percent in the cloud.”

Advertisement

If all goes as planned for HHS, Killoran said by the end of fiscal 2017 the agency will have almost 41 percent of all investments moving “in some way shape or form” to the cloud.

One of the key turning points came when Killoran’s staff set up a cloud sandbox that let bureau level IT folks and mission owners test out tools and software in a safe environment.

“The other thing that helped was a lot of our organizations indicated they didn’t have a contractual mechanism to get to the cloud so over the last 12-to-18 months we put in contracts they can utilize for Salesforce. We have our Microsoft agreement so they can get to Azure. There is a contract for Amazon services as well, and we actually have some other folks using smaller cloud providers as well. That has helped to speed some of that up,” she said. “Actually our best adoption has been in the smaller organizations where they saw significant cost reductions both from an administrative and from a hosting perspective by moving to the cloud so they have adopted more diligently.”

Another thing that has helped speed up cloud adoption has been the success of moving the HHS financial management system to a shared service provider’s cloud in December 2015. Killoran said the success of that move HHS’ internal shared services provider gave hesitant mission owners confidence in this technology.

HHS bureaus including the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health have successfully moved systems to the cloud to address mission challenges.

Killoran said she believes as more HHS agencies move to the cloud the return on investment in the form of cost savings and cost avoidance will become clearer.

HHS already moved its email to the cloud and now is focused on moving to Microsoft Office 365 to offer more capabilities.

“The next thing we are trying to do is the One-Drive capability so you can have your documents anywhere. Then, obviously, coupling that with the Office 365 in the cloud it will make it virtual anyplace. Not only will we have unlimited storage but we will be able to utilize those capabilities on multiple types of devices and to be able to share information more collaboratively than in the past,” Killoran said. “We are moving to Voice over IP and that will allow you to take your phone with you so you will have one number and can access your voice mail messages from your iPhone or desktop computer.”

The move the cloud also opens the door for a broader use of shared services across HHS.

Killoran said sharing commodity IT is one of the five priorities under her strategic plan. The other four include the workforce, cybersecurity, interoperability and usability, and IT management.

“What we did in the fall was have a CIO summit which we spent two days offsite to develop objectives under each of these areas,” she said. “We wanted to understand from [component CIOs] what was most important to work on.”

Under shared services, HHS is working on a common understanding of what is available today as well as an enterprise framework.

Killoran said currently the approach to shared services is ad-hoc with agencies providing software or systems to one another based on word of mouth.

“We don’t have any construct targets for shared service within our enterprise architecture. We don’t have any sort of catalog of what kind of capabilities are out there that potentially some operating divisions would want to share or be some benefit of sharing. So we wanted to start with that,” she said. “The first thing we wanted to do is establish a policy that operationalizes how enterprise services would be done in a framework across the department so we can understand who would be willing to provide services and how would organization utilize those services. The second thing we are trying to do is basically communicate what those would be. Who is building what kind of capabilities that they would want to deliver as a shared service? How they can talk to internal customers about what their needs would be?”

Killoran said through data center consolidation and standardization as well as the MEGAByte Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law last July and requires CIOs to send OMB an annual report on how much money they are saving from better software management, will help promote shared services around software license contracting.

“We are trying to do this as a coalition of the willing. As with any large organization, establishing mandates has mixed results and that’s why we are trying to establish a framework so that those who do want to provide the services can have a mechanism to do that,” she said. “And those who want to utilize the services understand where those services might be and how they could utilize them within the department so they don’t have to go out on their own. It also could potentially reduce the time to market or their time to implement those capabilities.”