In government, IT consolidation aids business continuity

When it comes to IT consolidation projects, what works in the private sector doesn't always work for government agencies, said a Homeland Security Department official today. But ultimately consolidation makes it easier for agencies to establish a business continuity solution for maintaining operations in the event of disaster.

Speaking at a Unisys Corp.-sponsored breakfast in Washington, Mark Emery, a deputy chief information officer at Homeland Security, said that when his group began consolidating the infrastructures that would make up the department's Border and Transportation Security organization, he did not follow industry best practices.

CIO advisers from private industry told Emery's team that the department's business leaders should be directing the consolidation mission, not the IT group. "We couldn't wait for that," Emery said. "We had to be ahead of the curve, possibly pushing the business functions."

Emery said Homeland Security concentrated on consolidating the systems that went into BTS, because they comprised 70 percent of the department's IT infrastructure. BTS includes the Transportation Security Administration, Customs, Immigration and Naturalization Services and others.

With the savings that comes from consolidating systems, Emery said he expects to build better disaster recovery into the BTS infrastructure.

"We're still at the very beginning of the process," he said.

Charles Gerhard, former CIO of Pennsylvania, said the kind of consolidation efforts that Homeland Security is undertaking played a major role in the state's continuity of operations planning.

Gerhard said Pennsylvania saved 15 percent to 20 percent by consolidating data centers, telecommunications systems, e-mail systems, Web servers and more. Then the state plowed that money back into redundancy and system back-up initiatives.

The emphasis on business continuity comes one day after the General Accounting Office released a report criticizing federal agencies for not having adequate continuity of operations plans to keep the government running in the event of disaster.

"I am very concerned that, in the year 2004, the federal government still has major shortcomings in identifying agencies' essential functions and developing plans to carry those functions out in the event of a natural or man-made disaster," said Rep. Tom Davis, (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform. "In the last few years in Washington we have seen enough events, both big and small, interrupt government operations to know the importance of continuity of operations plans."

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