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DHS CIOs Reveal IT Successes, Challenges and Requirements

February 28, 2012
By Maryann Lawlor
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Richard Spires, chief information officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), kicked off DHS Industry Day by declaring that it is time to find the balance between the IT needs of individual DHS agencies and leveraging IT throughout the department as a whole. The department needs to take a "shared first" approach to commodities and then look at unique technologies needed by the individual agencies. Although the DHS on the whole has not always completed IT projects on time and on budget, Spires said that the council has set up centers of excellence that help determine how to assist the agencies achieve success. Robert Foster, acting CIO, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), added that the centers enable the agencies to tap into a central repository to meet individual IT needs from an enterprise level, and he called for increasing the number of centers. Spires led a panel comprising the department's CIO council, including Margie Graves, deputy CIO, who said that one of this year's focus areas will be "as a service" offerings, including email, SharePoint and testing new IT capabilities not only throughout the development process but also during the roll-out process. Leveraging department resources across the agencies that comprise the DHS will be increasing important as each organization grows its mission. For example, Rear Adm. Robert Day, USCG, CIO, pointed to the data collected after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf Coast-18 terabytes of it. If the DHS did not have the capability to efficiently process and analyze that plethora of data, the Department of Justice would not have the evidence it needs for the subsequent law suits and holding BP accountable for the clean-up. Panelists agreed that, despite the benefits, challenges exist in moving toward an enterprise-wide infrastructure. Among the most common challenges are legacy applications, the need for agile development and testing, and new acquisition approaches that enable agencies to purchase capabilities in small chunks rather than through huge contract commitments.

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