On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the federal government launched Apps.gov, an online storefront that will allow agencies to purchase software and services from the cloud, federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced Tuesday during a briefing at NASA's Ames Research Center in the Silicon Valley.
The Web site's offerings include business applications, productivity applications, cloud IT services and social media applications. A CIO who uses the Web site for purchasing can choose a piece of software -- Kundra mentioned Salesforce.com as an example -- add it to his or her online shopping cart, and buy it on the spot.
Kundra said the Apps.gov purchasing system will help make procurements easier, faster and cheaper, and reduce duplicative systems -- he said there are 10,000 of them across the federal government.
The federal CIO said that what in the private sphere takes a matter of minutes -- signing up for an e-mail account, sharing photos online, or even provisioning an accounting system for a small business -- can unfortunately cost hundreds of millions of dollars for the federal government to accomplish.
"This broad initiative around efficiency and effectiveness leads us to move the federal government in a direction that it can leverage some of these emerging technologies, while addressing some of the difficult issues around privacy and security," Kundra said during a media conference call Tuesday. "This is not going to happen overnight, and the Apps.gov storefront is the first step in many steps we'll be taking to move the federal government in this direction."
Cloud computing services on Apps.gov have not yet gone live. They will include storage, software development tools, virtual processing power and Web hosting.
Kundra said many of the social media applications will be made available for free. The big-name heavyweights -- Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and Scribd -- are accessible. Earlier this year a coalition of federal government agencies agreed to terms of service with a range of social media companies.
New applications will continue to be added to Apps.gov, Kundra said.
Decision-makers from state and local government have typically shied away from purchasing from the federal government's General Services Administration (GSA) schedules even though they're eligible to do so. Many state and local technology agencies believe they often can negotiate better deals themselves with vendors than what the GSA offers.
But a few government CIOs who have spoken with Government Technology said they might buy technology from the Apps.gov storefront. Some of the applications posted online are covered under the GSA schedule.
Georgia CIO Patrick Moore said he might be interested in using the online storefront if it meets the state's needs. And Washington, D.C., Interim Chief Technology Officer Chris Willey, Kundra's successor for the district, said on Tuesday that Apps.gov is another valuable resource for procurement. "Well we will look at that [Web site] as any other marketplace, and as an opportunity for the district to either save some money or take advantage of something that's available on that Web site," Willey said.
He said traditional procurements by nature are "fairly disjointed." A CIO figures out what he or she wants and then solicits for quotes. "The [online] shopping cart would definitely streamline a lot of that process," he said. "The only question is: Is it as competitive as going out and getting each procurement and essentially asking the market to do better than it did last time?"
The shopping cart model presumes you have a stable set of agreements with fixed price points, but that might not be as competitive as if you continually re-bid it, he explained.
It's a question Willey is grappling with. He said the District of Columbia is looking at the feasibility of developing a similar purchasing storefront for D.C.'s government agencies, which would allow them to conveniently buy software and services from Willey's Office of the Chief Technology Officer or from vendors.
Kundra mentioned repeatedly during Tuesday's announcement that the government is focused on maintaining and improving the security of the applications and services offered by Apps.gov. And he said the federal government will continue to keep its sensitive data and systems in-house.
The feds spend $76 billion annually on IT, Kundra said. "Yet there have been a number of innovations that have happened that we [the federal government] haven't been a beneficiary of because there are legitimate issues around security, and there are legitimate issues around privacy, that haven't been addressed. What we've been able to do now is take on those issues," he said.
Products and vendors on Apps.gov will someday be required to carry Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification, and a number of vendors are working on that accreditation, Kundra said. But the software and services that are available now on the Web site are no different than off-the-shelf versions, he explained.
The transition toward cloud computing will require working with Congress in the coming years on legislation for technology standards and interoperability, he said.
"Moving into this new world of cloud computing, as we look at the very definition of FISMA and some of the security standards in this new environment, we have to look at how security is applied in this space," Kundra said.