DHS shifts to cloud, agile development

In a bid to improve its IT operations, the Department of Homeland Security has adopted agile development and is turning to cloud platforms.

At a recent hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security, DHS deputy CIO Margaret Graves gave lawmakers an overview of agile software development methodologies.

As part of its agile approach, the department is creating "user stories" to help shape systems as they are being built, Graves explained. Users are "sitting with the developer, they are talking through use cases, they are testing at appropriate times," she said.

DHS transitioned to agile last year, Graves said in her testimony.

The intent of the hearing was to look at the progress of some DHS IT projects. Approximately 15% of the department's budget, or about $6 billion, is spent on IT.

Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) cited reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the DHS inspector general that found fault with some of department's IT spending. Of the department's 68 major IT investments, about one-third had either gone over budget or had not been completed on time.

But David Powner, director of IT technology management issues at the GAO, who also testified, said he believes the agency is moving in the right direction.

That direction includes a shift to the cloud.

Graves said the DHS is consolidating 42 data centers into two, and has shut down 18 data centers so far. As part of this effort, it is implementing cloud services, including platform-as-a-service and software-as-a-service, and is moving its email system to a cloud platform.

With cloud-based systems, the cost per email box will be about $7 per user per year. That represents a substantial savings, said Graves, noting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is part of DHS, has spent about $24 per user per year.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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