While working on lesson plans for some of the classes I teach, I came across the summary and lessons learned I wrote up after we finished the move of the US Department’s of Transportation headquarters from L’Enfant Plaza to the Navy Yard. It original appeared in Federal Times, I thought some of it might be applicable to other large IT projects and have reprinted it here:
The Department of Transportation Moves to a New Headquarters
Daniel G. Mintz, Chief Information Officer
Department of Transportation
“We’ve done the impossible and that makes us mighty.”
- Mal, Serenity Captain, Firefly TV Series
The weekend of June 22, the last employee was moved out of the old Department of Transportation headquarters building at L’Enfant Plaza and moved into the new building on the Southeast Federal Center. That weekend the entire Office of the Secretary, including all of the communications associated with relocating a Cabinet Level Secretary were also moved.
By the weekend of June 29, the last computer servers were moved out of the old headquarters building and moved into a new data center in Frederick, Maryland. For the first time, Departmental mission systems had been consolidated from more than 22 server rooms – built into nooks and crannies in the old building – into a single, centralized hosting site with a robust underlying infrastructure and the same reliable network architecture that supports headquarters.
The Department now has a solid baseline to evaluate consolidation of application infrastructure and virtualization as real alternatives to reduce costs, and to improve reliability.
5,500 employees, 800 servers, 1,500 miles of cabling, and more than 40,000 telephone and data network terminations later the move and the new building are nearly complete.
The schedule was aggressive and required moving upwards of 600 employees, their PC’s, personnel effects, records, and telephones in a weekend, often while the office floor was still being constructed, furniture was being installed, and the telephone and network cabling was being installed and tested.
For the servers, the project team had a sum total of four weeks to move the 800 systems in what we termed a forklift move, taking down systems on a Wednesday night, moving them, and bringing them back up for a resumption of operations the following Monday morning.
As a result of the DOT New Headquarters project the Department has a new network backbone that meets the OMB mandated IPv6 standards from the ground up, and has security built into the system. For those unfamiliar with IPv6, or Internet Protocol version 6, suffice it to say that in the next few years, all network devices will need to be compatible in order to provide optimum access to the Internet.
A little less daring, but no less visionary were the changes to the headquarters telephone system. Already centralized and providing services to 18,000 customers, large scale change to the headquarters telephone system would have been disruptive to Departmental operations if not impossible.
The solution – build a completely new telephone system, one with future capabilities for converged voice, video and data, and with the ability to support IP telephony out of the box. Then, keep the old telephone numbers for consistency and migrate the numbers as the employees move.
So what are the lessons learned that we would like to pass on? There were many, but the most important would be to communicate as much as possible in as detailed a fashion as possible to all stakeholders within the organization. They deserve to know what is going on, it will help them be supportive for what is inevitably a traumatic process.
A second important lesson is to prepare a detailed project plan. The project plans should include transition planning as well as the more obvious construction and moving tasks. At the same time, never assume that you’ll know everything that your stakeholders already own and operate – have a process for dealing with requirement changes, especially towards the end of the move when there is less time for recovery. Remember that problems and roadblocks will arise, be prepared to negotiate and compromise on those elements that are not important.
Finally, it is important that the senior leadership of the Department take an active oversight role. They will be needed to make and enforce decisions that otherwise would linger far too long.
None of the IT part of the move would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of a large team working for the Office of the CIO at the Department for many months under the direction of our IT project manager, Drew Orndorff. The Department of Transportation and I personally owe all of them a great deal of thanks.
Mal: It looks like we arrived just in the nick of time. What does that make us?
Zoë: Big damn heroes, sir.
Mal: Ain’t we just.