Fermilab Gains Agility Managing IT In The Cloud

Energy Department's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory migrates its IT services management system to ServiceNow and earns ISO 20000 certification for operational excellence.

Richard W. Walker, Contributor

November 5, 2013

4 Min Read

Top 10 Government IT Innovators Of 2013

Top 10 Government IT Innovators Of 2013

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Victoria White, CIO of the Energy Department's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), likes to call her organization's migration of its IT services management to the cloud "a journey."

For White, the journey began with the realization that the lab's legacy systems were hurting the ability of its 1,700 employees and a global network of between 3,000 and 4,000 scientists from reaching their goal of advancing research in particle physics and driving the development of transformative technologies for science and industry.

The journey reached a major milestone earlier this year, when Fermilab became the Energy Department's first national laboratory to earn ISO 20000 certification for excellence in IT service management processes.

White knew five years ago that the national lab needed to improve or automate its enterprise processes in a number of areas, including asset and configuration management, IT governance, performance analytics, incident management and its service desk. What was missing was the right combination of resources and solutions.

[ Why can't cloud procurement move faster? Read Feds Face Cloud Procurement Confusion, Delays. ]

"You need computing to do science, and you need underpinning computing to support all the people [doing research]," White told InformationWeekSo she started looking for ways to improve the way the lab delivers those services to people to enable science and do it cost effectively. "That journey was really about process improvement and service management," and about helping people learn "that you need tools to help you," White said.

White and her team saw the emergence of the cloud as potential solution and started migrating "a classic, old-fashioned service desk tool" to the cloud.

"It was like so many things in IT where the classic old systems are just not enabling you to move forward," she said. "They cost a lot to maintain, upgrades are very expensive, you need programmers and you have wait in line to get something coded to meet your needs. It was just not supporting our needs."

In 2011, they decided to switch to a software-as-a-service platform, selecting ServiceNow, whose cloud-based system lets customers automate and standardize IT management services and create a single system of record for enterprise IT services. Customers also can use ServiceNow's extensible platform to build applications for automating processes unique to their business requirements.

After a six-month proof-of-concept pilot, lab officials completed migration to the service in October 2011. "It was very enabling and remains very enabling to this day," White said. "Our experience has been that we've been able to move forward and be agile, and using it as a platform, build more processes and do more automation."

For Fermilab users, the most visible improvement in moving to the cloud is the centralization and standardization of the service desk. Now, when they report computer-related issues to the service, their tickets are seamlessly logged, tracked and fixed. "This is where you have to track IT," White said. "You have to understand what's happening."

The improvements led Fermilab to earn ISO 20000 certification for excellence in IT service management processes, the first national laboratory inside the Energy Department to do so. ISO 20000, an international standard for IT service management, is an approach that requires every stage of an IT service -- from planning to delivery to improvement -- to meet business requirements and customer expectations. Maintaining certification status involves annual audits and a plan to continually demonstrate improved services and processes.

The biggest benefit of migrating its IT services management to the cloud is agility, according to White. Given Fermilab's positive experience, she advised other government IT professionals to "get moving" on the journey to cloud-based services.

"You've got to keep moving forward in the modern world," she said. "Don't be afraid. Just get moving. Do small projects in small pieces. There's nothing more enabling than having someone else run the infrastructure, someone else upgrade the platform and having the whole platform built for configuration rather than coding. That in itself is the enabler of making you agile, making you able to move forward."

About the Author(s)

Richard W. Walker


Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area who has been covering issues and trends in government technology for more than 15 years.

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