Better, cheaper, faster — the federal government’s appetite for each isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
It’s something that John George saw coming well ahead of the curve — and acted on, first, within his own organization. Back in 2006, as CIO of a legacy organization that would come to be known Vangent, George set his sights on a revolutionary upgrade to the company’s IT systems, leveraging virtualization and cloud computing at a time when each was still making its way onto the IT scene. After just six months, George’s team (and he is quick to emphasize the team) delivered the end result: a brand new business infrastructure built, in large part, upon a private cloud.
That cloud has since come to serve external customers in areas such as information management and business process outsourcing — all in a pinch, earning the company the distinction: There’s normal time, then there’s “Vangent time.”
Private cloud, lower costs
“A private cloud translates into lower costs for our customers and delivered services,” says George (right). “That’s really been our focus, getting our costs down through use of cloud-based technologies and allowing our customers to take advantage of that.”
A big advantage has been the ability to ramp up, and down, as specific government needs come and go. In one case, the move from a traditional server environment to the private cloud resulted in virtualized environment with a cost savings of about 30 percent in CPUs and storage.
Vangent’s private cloud also came into play on another front: the government’s recent US Census efforts, for which Vangent has operated three major call centers, plus a data capture facility. That oversight was accompanied by an aggressive recruitment effort to bring 4,000 call center representatives quickly on board. The job notice was placed on the company’s website. In the end, the number of hits on the website from job seekers skyrocketed by roughly 10,000 percent. Vangent’s private cloud, upon which the site was hosted, helped power a robust bandwidth.
Meanwhile, Vangent’s private cloud has offered the ability to automatically provision services for new employees based upon their type. “As soon as you get entered into the HR system, the rest of the environment reacts, and a network account, email account, as well as access to certain systems are granted — all of that happens automatically,” says George. “This was an enormous benefit to us when we helped the Department of Transportation execute the CARS program,” he says. “Thousands of employees were hired and given access to company systems with no manual intervention.”
Security, top priority
George’s prescience in leveraging the private cloud continues. Especially on the security front.
“Security will always be at the top of my list, especially when you’re talking about the cloud,” says George. “The government,” he says, “is obviously concerned about privacy and there’s an impression that cloud computing may dilute some of the hard work that folks have done around information security and more traditional types of approaches to computing.”
George has addressed those concerns, specifically in relation to PII (personally identifiable information) and PHI (protected health information). Beyond the usual firewalls and audits, George is “taking it up a notch,” deploying an aggressive data loss prevention (DLP) system that fingerprints the data and secondly, watches over the “flow of information,” as he puts it.
“We’re not only doing the right thing from a FISMA perspective, we’ve taken it to the next level,” says George. “For example, if someone logs in and attempts to download some health-related information on a citizen, that would get blocked because that person isn’t necessarily authorized to do that — it’s that sort of technology that we’re wrapping around our private cloud.”
Next up: Cloud telephony
For George, the work continues. “It’s not just about keeping the network running everyday,” he says, “it’s about doing the new and innovative things to help our customers, and help the company, be successful.”
This September ushers in the next stage in cloud innovation at Vangent: a new telephony infrastructure to accompany the private cloud.
“From a customer’s perspective, they’ll see our ability to quickly react to any requirement, in terms of the call center,” says George. “Our voice infrastructure, like our computing infrastructure, has been virtualized … a resource (i.e., agent, IVR, voice application) can sit anywhere in the environment, and be accessed from anywhere else within our private cloud … this has the usual business continuity and disaster recovery benefits, but it also helps us put assets to work more quickly to support our customers,” he adds.
George is also keeping a continued eye on the healthcare arena, and ways Vangent’s IT infrastructure can be put to use on its behalf. “We believe there’s quite a bit of opportunity there to help our customers, from a business analytics perspective,” says George. “Looking down the road at health information exchanges, and how health reform will impact it, we see an increasing role for cloud computing,” he says.
“With traditional approaches, you could never keep up in terms of the ability to store and manage health information,” he adds. “The amount of data we will be managing is mind-boggling, and we, as an industry, have to get cleverer on how we deal with it.”
For George, those efforts are already underway — they have been, ever since he and his team found themselves at a crossroads back in 2006. It was then George had a choice: Go with an evolutionary approach to IT built upon a 25-year-old company infrastructure. Or think anew.
It’s that road less traveled that George plans to continue to carry his team down.
“Basically, at the end of the day, we set aggressive schedules and we meet them,” says George. “That’s the story of our lives.”