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Government agencies will continue to struggle with cybersecurity, while making strides in transparency and cloud computing. There will also be new pushes for accountability and IT procurement reform.

J. Nicholas Hoover

December 21, 2009

7 Min Read

In some ways, government technology appeared to have received a new lease on life in 2009. As cloud computing and Web 2.0 took root in the wider tech industry, President Obama's tech-savvy administration named the United States' first CIO and CTO and launched a -ranging effort on transparency that was echoed in many national, state and even local governments.

Government 2.0 and "government as a platform" became new buzz phrases, federal CIO Vivek Kundra launched cloud computing and performance management initiatives, and it seemed as if every government agency started a Twitter feed, joined Facebook and began posting YouTube videos.

However, we also continued to hear more of the same. Cybersecurity became an even larger concern, as reports of breaches seemed to come out weekly and new government leaders and organizations sprouted up to fight the hackers. As usual, there was also a parade of failed projects.

If 2009 was about promise, look for 2010 to be about delivery. Following are five things to watch for next year in government tech, subject to the caveat that I like Nostradamus and Punxsutawney Phil have been known to make a prognostication or two that don't pan out.

1. Cybersecurity Will Continue To Be On The Front Burner

Look for 2010 to be another year of cybersecurity news. The new U.S. Cyber Command will really get off the ground this year, pointing the U.S. military toward a more complete, comprehensive cyber offense and defense strategy. The Department of Homeland Security will continue to formalize its strategy and centralize its authority over the civilian side of cybersecurity and will create formal public-private partnerships with the financial and energy sectors.

The White House will look for better information on cybersecurity performance and budgets, and may release a top-level strategy for implementing the ideas laid out in the administration's 60-day cyber review earlier this year. ID management will also get a new lease on life. However, we will continue to hear reports of breaches and privacy will be a major concern as government looks for new ways to converse with the public. Though an able official, new White House cyber coordinator Howard Schmidt will struggle to make his voice heard with two bosses and a lack of budget or strong policy authority.

2. More Agencies Will Begin Forays Into Cloud Computing, Including Public Clouds

Top agency IT leaders are beginning to really wrap their heads around the idea of cloud computing and what it could mean for their agencies. While 2009 was a year of head-scratching and a few leading-edge cloud projects, 2010 will see early projects move into production and more and more agencies toying around with cloud computing. The Defense Information Systems Agency's RACE will be available for classified software, and NASA's Nebula will be made available to all agencies. The GSA, which federal CIO Vivek Kundra has called a "center of gravity" for cloud computing, will launch several "platform" efforts and look to begin providing more shared services that sit on some sort of private cloud platform. The federal government will make a big deal out of data center consolidation, forcing agencies to begin thinking about how to architect their private clouds. Some states will attempt to become a private cloud service provider to local agencies, but will see a number of failures owing to the complexity of their efforts.

Apps.gov will move from beta phase to real use, but GSA will struggle convincing agencies to use it rather than buying apps on their own until it figures out a way to wrap easy certification and accreditation into the process. Apps.gov will also see the launch of application development prizes, new outreach to start-ups, and the creation of a SourceForge-like open source effort.

Increasing vendor engagement from companies like Amazon and Microsoft and private sector case studies will even spur a few agencies to begin using Amazon Web Services, Windows Azure and other public platforms and infrastructure as a service for substantive workloads, including for application testing, number crunching and Web hosting. However, security and procurement, as well as legacy obligations, will continue to be stumbling blocks for a massive uptick of cloud computing use.

3. Transparency Won't Always Be Easy

2009 launched the open government era, but 2010 will be about making sense of it all. Efforts like Data.gov will continued to be echoed across the country and worldwide, with the United Kingdom's effort, co-developed by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, becoming a keystone of innovation.

In the United States, USASpending.gov and Data.gov will get major overhauls, making it easier for the public to find more and more granular information, and making it easier to sort through that information. However, many open government efforts will suffer from lack of use and poor usability, even as governments push for adoption of standard formats. Any number of agencies will lag behind, struggling with cultural and technical issues. Some activists will become more annoyed by what they will see as selective transparency.

Agencies will begin to make more effective use of social media, creating real dialogues with citizens rather than simply throwing up a few YouTube videos or a Facebook page and patting themselves on the back. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra will also begin more public dialog on standard semantic data models in government.

4. Dashboards Will Push Agencies To Improve Performance Management

This could be the year of the dashboard as a transparency lever to force change in government operations, especially at the federal level. First, we had the IT Dashboard. Then, the White House announced it would be creating a dashboard for transparency. Just today, the Office of Management and Budget announced plans for a dashboard for data on federal contracting. In 2010, the White House will struggle to get people to effectively use the IT Dashboard, but Congress will begin to put agency CIOs' feet to the fire for both failing projects and poor use of the dashboard. The new transparency dashboard will get kudos from open government advocates, but it won't be clear how much force it will have behind it.

A new cybersecurity dashboard will cause controversy because critics will raise concerns about tipping the enemy off to which agencies have the poorest security measures in place. Dashboards will also pop up outside of IT, showing the public how well major non-IT projects are going and what's being done to remedy problems there, but just like in IT, it will be a tough slog to get agencies to effectively use them. Finally, all these dashboards will be used as fodder for budgeting for 2011 and 2012.

5. IT Procurement May See Some Tentative, Incomplete Reform
Federal government IT procurement is looking to get an overhaul. There are several efforts working their way through Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense to make significant changes to the way agencies buy and deploy IT.

For too long, agencies have bought IT like they buy battleships, requiring an arduous multi-stage process that includes unnecessary or inefficient steps, causing far too many agencies to be generations behind the private and consumer sectors by the time they have a system or service up and running.

However, IT procurement reform is strewn with obstacles, foremost among them cybersecurity and transparency. While a no-bid contract and an on-the-fly installation might be quicker, it can hide the details of government spending and take security shortcuts. Policy-making bodies will struggle with these questions but will release some new guidance and policies that address many of them, while a few like DISA's CertificationForge will begin making inroads in automating the certification and accreditation process.

For Further Reading

Chief Of The Year: Vivek Kundra

The Government CIO 50: Driving Change In The Public Sector

Ballmer Expected At White House Tech Forum

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About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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