Survey: Network security concern for federal IT execs'

Network security is the top concern of federal IT executives, according to a new survey about enterprise architecture planning that is released Monday.

Market Connections, a US market research firm, conducted the survey, which was funded by Cisco. The survey involved telephone interviews of 155 federal executives representing 40 US civilian and military agencies. The interviews were conducted in August.

Federal IT executives were asked about the most important business and IT issues that they faced over the next two years, and network security ranked first in both categories. Behind network security were continuity of operations as a business issue and disaster recovery/contingency planning as an IT issue.

"Security is such an embedded, implicit factor in everything that people do,'' says Aaron Heffron, vice president of Market Connections. "Whether it's rolling out something as simple as new desktops or something as elaborate as enterprise architecture, security is always front of mind for everybody.''

When asked to choose one issue that could be positively impacted by changes to their enterprise architectures, federal IT executives again ranked network security as No. 1.

"Security is a problem, but it's also where they see the benefit of enterprise architecture,'' says Gerald Charles, executive advisor public sector, Internet Business Solutions Group at Cisco. "They are seeing enterprise architecture as a way of providing a centralized framework for security and security services and in using enterprise architecture to further embed security into the enterprise. Then security will be a more natural paradigm vs. the point solutions for handling security today.''

When asked what the biggest challenge to achieving their enterprise architecture goals, federal IT officials most commonly chose funding.

"This is not a surprising response,'' Heffron says. "Funding is always a challenge'' for federal IT executives.

Other common concerns were maintaining security during the shift to enterprise architecture and meeting internal staffing requirements.

"Federal IT decision makers are concerned about internal staffing, both the quantity of the staffing but also the knowledge base of the staffing they have,'' Heffron says.

Only a third of survey respondents consider their enterprise architecture plans to be adequate for their agencies now and in the future. The other two thirds of survey respondents said that their EA plans would not support their agency's current or future missions.

In terms of the progress they have made in enterprise architecture planning, most survey respondents said they are in the process of consolidating IT infrastructures, improving cross-agency collaboration and enhancing secure delivery of services to citizens.

More than half of the survey respondents said that they are working with an outside vendor or contractor to help with enterprise architecture planning and implementation. The top vendors mentioned as providers of enterprise architecture solutions were Microsoft, Cisco and IBM. Respondents named more than 30 companies altogether.

When asked about the challenges they face in enterprise architecture planning and migration, nearly half of the survey respondents said they needed more funding for internal staffing and training of existing staff.

"The fact that an overwhelming majority said internal staffing and training is where the biggest additional investment is needed is a compelling find,'' Heffron says.

Charles says he wasn't surprised by the survey findings related to the progress federal agencies have made with enterprise architecture planning and implementation. He says federal agencies are still laying the foundation for enterprise architecture and are not yet fully adopting it or having it transform their business processes.

"Federal managers...are trying to improve delivery of services to the nation and they are trying to increase their productivity while decreasing their operational expenditures,'' Charles says. "This survey is saying that they see enterprise architecture as a way of driving a number of strategies that will help them achieve those goals...However, they're still in the process of trying to implement enterprise architecture.''

Charles says federal agencies need more tools including best practices and training to help with the migration to enterprise architecture. That's why Cisco will announce Monday a new off-the-shelf architecture for enabling secure information sharing among government communities of interest as part of its Connected Government initiative.

Heffron says the concerns that federal IT executives have about network security and internal staffing are consistent with the commercial marketplace, too. But he thinks companies are ahead at enterprise architecture planning and implementation.

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