U.S. OMB pushes for software as a service

A top OMB official is pushing for greater government adoption of SaaS to cut development costs, but she also sees a lot of reluctance to move to a different model

A top official with the U.S. White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) gave her strongest endorsement yet to SaaS (software as a service), saying Wednesday it can help federal agencies cut development costs.

A speech on Wednesday at the SaaS/Gov conference in Washington, D.C., wasn't the first time Karen Evans, administrator of the OMB's Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology, endorsed SaaS. Despite Evans' continuing advocacy of the concept, adoption has been slow among government agencies, according to one vendor.

Asked whether the OMB should more strongly promote SaaS, Evans said U.S. agencies need to weigh cost, security, and other factors. But the U.S. government needs to move to a more service-oriented software model, she said.

"Our track record is clear -- we are not very good at delivering our own software in the time frame set," Evans said at the conference. "We're also not very good at managing large projects."

Some agencies haven't embraced the service approach, often because they want hands-on control of software development, Evans said. But government agencies can't afford to keep developing their own software without sharing with other agencies, she said.

"We can't continue to maintain all of the things we have," she added. "We have to start shutting down some of our legacy systems. We really have to move to a ... service-oriented market."

Although there's been no prohibition against U.S. agencies using SaaS models, many agencies have been reluctant to move to a service-based approach, partly because of concerns about the security of Web-based services, said Dan Burton, senior vice president of global public policy for Salesforce.com.

Evans' speech on Wednesday could create a "tipping point" for the use of SaaS models in the U.S. government, Burton said. Many agencies seem to believe that they don't have the authority to take a chance on the new model, he said.

One step that service-based software vendors can take is to seek security certifications and map out how their services meet Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requirements, Evans said. Some agencies are reluctant to move to SaaS without certifications, she said.

However, some agencies are already using SaaS to cut down development times. Rezaur Rahman, enterprise architect and Web services manager for the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, said his agency began using Salesforce.com offerings in its information management systems in recent months. Budget constraints helped push the agency toward software as a service, he said.

The agency is using services to take care of many functions it would have had to write its own code for in the past, including reading and writing to databases, Rahman said. The agency can often make tweaks to its information management systems in a day or less, he added.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.