White House CIO shares horror stories of old tech, long outages

Most IT managers struggle to keep systems running and keep their companies up-to-date with new technology. But here’s something that might make them feel better about their own departments: Even top-level IT leaders in the federal government have to deal with those same challenges. 

That’s the message from Brook Colangelo, the CIO of the Executive Office of the President. In a recent presentation at ComputerWorld‘s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference, Colangelo detailed the many problems he encountered when he took over as the White House’s IT boss.

Some of the bigger issues he discussed included:

  1. In Colangelo’s first 40 days on the job, the White House email system was down 23% of the time — including one 21-hour incident that happened six days after the Obama administration took over.
  2. More than 82% of the White House’s technology needed to be replaced — for example, many of the desktop PCs in use were old enough that they had floppy drives.
  3. The White House had one data center and no redundancy, which led to long outages of critical applications.

Colangelo certainly wasn’t the only one who had issues with technology in the White House. In April of last year, Obama himself made similar remarks about the sad state of government IT.

It took work, Colangelo said, but his department managed to work through many of the problems. For instance, his team has since added a new data center for backup and recovery operations. Also, efforts to modernize White House technology led to a 300% increase in Internet speeds and a 50% reduction in the number of assets at the end of their life cycles.

One outcome of the White House’s IT upgrade process was an increase in support for IT consumerization. Colangelo’s department has added support for staff members’ personal tablets and smartphones, as well as set up a web-based portal for secure access to email and other services from outside the White House.

A takeaway from Colangelo’s story for other IT managers: It’s important to listen to your “customers” in the business. An important part of Colangelo’s plan to improve the White House’s IT operations, he said, was to hold town hall meetings with users to let them voice their opinions.