Ensuring Long-term DMS Success

Brad Wintermute, Deputy CIO-Director of the Office of Technology & Delivery, FDA
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Brad Wintermute, Deputy CIO-Director of the Office of Technology & Delivery, FDA

Keeping Up-to-date with the “Latest and Greatest”

So where do you start? That depends on how far behind and how diverse your organization is.  No matter where you are or what you have, you have to start with strong leadership and a vision of what you want the organization to look like five to ten years down the road. Documents are nothing more than data and knowledge systems leveraging data in order meet business process needs. The organization’s business process and scope has a direct impact on the overall amount of data it controls. You’ve got to think big because enterprise level backend systems tend to grow exponentially as the efficiencies of leveraging them are realized throughout the organization.

“You have to keep moving your Document Management (DM) system forward”

Leadership in successful large organizations with enterprise document management systems realize they not only have to worry about securing and maintaining the enterprise systems they also have to provide a stable platform for business unit application teams to leverage.  Decentralized business centric development goes on across the organization, you can’t stop it so you have to manage and plan for it. You need good leadership and enforceable enterprise wide policies that are technically sound in order to keep everyone on track without stunting the organizations business process automation.

Business models in the government are not as flexible as you would want because of the laws and regulations that govern the responsibilities around them. This creates an environment where business units in the organization need to look at more than just standard off the shelf products in order to automate and streamline their business processes. It’s these complex and unique business process applications that require custom development to fit their specific business model, that’s what slows enterprise upgrades down. But no matter what, you have to keep moving your Document Management (DM) system forward.

To efficiently move our backend DM systems forward, we’ve focused on consolidation of toolsets with a master approved technology list which guides development teams towards standardized set of back end resources, development tools and programming languages so if necessary knowledge resources can be allocated across business units when needed. The more options your back end systems have for integration, the more flexible your front end applications can be, which is good for the organization.

At FDA, each DM application team works specifically with their business process owners and their internal organizations to determine what needs to be developed/enhanced and what the milestones are for each application or component under development. Our last DM upgrade cycle spanned 18 months, during this time, we had to run dual DM systems (old version/new version) in order to support our customers. As each application team completed their upgrade and verified their application was compatible with the newer version it was upgraded into production.

This was done seamlessly by collaborating with all the external and internal business facing application teams to fit the backend DM system upgrade into their front end development schedules. Some application teams took as little as three months to upgrade their system and verify compatibility, some took a bit longer. The business units we support didn’t miss a beat.  So when you say “some firms have been slow to upgrade their systems and keep up-to-date with the latest and greatest,” it might be a bit misleading to folks since upgrading enterprise systems are a bit more complex than upgrading the browser on your workstation.

Large organizations tend to have tremendous amounts of data, thousands of databases, billions of rows of data, hundreds of millions of documents and records that the organization has to efficiently protect, secure, store, maintain and deliver to both its internal and external customers. Each organization is different and what we are doing at FDA works for us but may not work for everyone. One thing that is true across organizations is the fact that the only way to achieve efficiencies across the enterprise is strong leadership with a long term vision and enforceable policies for leveraging these assets. The bigger the boat, the slower it turns, so strong forward thinking leadership with vision and technically sound solutions, embraced by your organization is critical to long term success.

Is Cloud-based Document Management System Efficient?

Cloud based document management (DM) systems hold a lot of potential for the federal government. The biggest benefit to running DM in the cloud is the potential for substantial cost savings federal agencies can reap in the areas associated with storage and continuity of operations. Agencies have undergone a paradigm shift in the last decade and are now relying heavily on electronic documents and integrated workflows that route electronic documents through their approval process instead of hard copy and inter office mail routing.

This business process shift has been data center and storage space intensive as these business process improvements have been implemented more widely across the government.  Organizations are looking at having to procure 100s of terabytes (TB) of disk space to store these electronic documents/records in their data centers. This storage increase requires additional resources at the data centers such as storage hardware, rack space to put the hardware, backup systems to preserve the data, air conditioning to offset the new hardware, electricity/power to run all that new hardware and of course support to maintain it. Continuity of operations (COOP) requires agencies to not only cover the initial storage space to hold the documents but duplicate storage space to hold hot backups of that data in a COOP site. Cloud based DM systems would eliminate the need for duplicate storage at the COOP sites and minimize data center storage loads.

A limiting factor is the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) medium certification which most cloud DM providers hold. This limits the types of data Federal organizations can store in the cloud. Documents and data that include trade secrets, Personally identifiable information (PII) data, national security information, and others will have to wait until cloud systems are authorized for FedRAMP high.

Once cloud systems are certified FedRAMP High we will be in a better position to take advantage of cloud based solutions.

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