NGA Maps Systems, Assets; Establishes Modernization Foundation

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is streamlining its system of record and improving the customer experience for employees.

Lawrence Turner, program manager at NGA, and April Atkins, configuration and change management lead at NGA, explained how the agency is maximizing potential through modern solutions at ServiceNow’s Knowledge 2019 conference in May.

With NGA analysts handling large amounts of data every day, keeping track of the agency’s assets was a proven challenge. And, the agency’s existing service portal where employees made requests and transported data was very confusing. Turner explained, “it was not a good customer [employee] experience.”

Over time, teams unknowingly added decentralized and redundant resources. For example, there were 30-40 different inventory databases, Atkins shared.

To tackle this challenge, the NGA team knew they needed centralized visibility into all IT resources, usage, and system owners.

The first step – improving the accuracy of all IT configuration information by implementing a configuration management database (CMDB) through ServiceNow.

“I know a lot of different organizations have started with IT Service Management [ITSM], but we started with our CMDB first so we could lay the groundwork for everything else we wanted to bring into the system, from security operations to ITSM,” Atkins said. “A service-aware CMDB is really just providing that foundational knowledge.”

As a cloud-based platform, ServiceNow allowed NGA’s team to integrate with existing IT investments. They could create a one-stop shop for users to have true situational awareness and multiple solutions on one platform.

Atkins’ team started by cataloging and mapping the agency’s network to find the gaps in documentation.

“Establishing owners of the business services was a very big deal for us. We had cases where we didn’t have the system owners documented for 200 to 300 systems,” she noted. “A lot of programs didn’t know that they had to document every system you exchange data with, every system you depend on, every system you’re connected to…” said Atkins.

Under the new CMDB, NGA would start to map 1.25 million configuration items and 300,000 physical assets over a two year period, creating the system of record the agency needed. This foundation helped enable cultural changes – more visibility and transparency.

The CMDB also contributed to enhanced security. “It’s very important we know what we have so that we can detect when things that aren’t supposed to be there show up,“ she added.

Atkins says that implementing the CMDB first (before ITSM) allowed NGA to more easily automate workflows because the team understood relationships between configuration items and services. They were better equipped to design workflows to break down stovepiped systems.

This also helped the agency when it came to outages. “It gave them [the agency’s outage team and operations offices] that ability to go in and see dependency maps so they can make informed decisions on what the actual user impact is going to be,” Atkins said.

Atkins stressed the importance of strong engagement with leadership. She described how her team worked to bring NGA’s leaders to a common understanding of the agency’s goals.“Getting all of your stakeholders and key leadership to agree what ‘good’ looks like will definitely help,” she said.

With the CMDB as the foundation, NGA started to work on modernizing ITSM. Their top priority was providing the best possible user experience for agency employees.

But, NGA’s IT service portal was not user-friendly. There were multiple forms for service requests, incident management, problem management, and change management.

In the ServiceNow implementation, Turner’s team focused on consolidating forms and creating a simpler interface with fewer icons and less clutter. The new portal had a search engine front and center, Turner explained, “they [employees] can start typing in and it will automatically go where they want.”

On the service request front, NGA reduced the number of forms from 158 to about 58, and at the same time added 13 new services for the customer.

Customers can now bundle services when ordering, adding multiple services to a virtual cart. “Instead of going in there and doing an entry for every request that they want, you send out a [single intake] form,” Turner shared. It gives employees the e-commerce experience, he said.

For incident management, the paperwork reduction was even more drastic – 194 forms reduced to one.

“We needed to change the experience from ‘this is for the fulfillers and providers’ to ‘this is customer-based,” Turner said, “make it easier for the customer.”

NGA’s changes provided a more intuitive and transparent user experience while improving the accuracy and workflow of IT processes across the agency.

Looking towards the future, NGA is exploring new discovery tools, IT Operations Management, and Security Operations. Turner’s team is tightly mapping the projects to current and NGA future priorities. “We’re making sure that what we’re doing has that value,” Turner said.

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