In recent months, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has shifted its IT modernization priorities dramatically to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said.

In an Aug. 3 letter to Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.., SBA CIO Keith Bluestein and SBA CFO Tami Perriello laid out the agency’s IT modernization priorities in both the short and long term. Their letter was in response to a June 3 request from Sen. Hassan, D-N.H., asking what SBA was doing to modernize its IT systems before the next crisis occurs.

When detailing its modernization priorities, SBA said “our priorities have shifted dramatically to respond to our new requirements from Congress, the sudden influx of new loan and grant requests, as well as enabling remote work capabilities for SBA employees.”

As a result, they said the agency’s current modernization priorities are:

  • Disaster Credit Management System (DCMS) – The system manages the SBA’s disaster assistance programs. SBA said that it is in the process of replacing the application with a new, Salesforce-based platform. The agency noted that this is a large system compromised of many components, and SBA is undertaking a phased approach to modernization. The first phase is expected to launch in August of this year, with the final phase launching in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021. SBA said it doesn’t expect to see any cost savings as a result of the modernization activity.
  • Capital Access Financial Management System (CAFS) – This financial system manages the SBA’s capital access program and the CARES Act programs. SBA said that while CAFS is one of the oldest systems, it continues to make improvements on it. Specifically, SBA continues to refresh hardware regularly, and did so within the last six months. SBA procured additional compute resources at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help with the additional load. Once again, SBA does not expect to see any cost savings as a result of modernization.
  • SBA Insight: Customer Service Hub – As a result of the pandemic, SBA has created an enterprise customer relationship management system for responding to the “unprecedented volume” of customer service inquiries. To handle more than three million customer cases, SBA has implemented Microsoft Dynamics 365. “Ongoing development and iterative releases in the coming weeks will deliver additional capabilities, including a customer self-service portal that allows customers to search the SBA Knowledge Base and check the status of their loan applications,” SBA said. The agency does not expect to see any cost savings as a result of this modernization activity.
  • Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans Intake Systems – The SBA has created new cloud-based systems for the intake of loan and grant applications. These systems are being integrated with existing back-end services to provide additional capacity dealing with the COVID-19 emergency. SBA does not expect to see any cost savings as a result of this modernization activity.
  • Employee Remote Connectivity Improvements – In response to a massive uptick in telework during the pandemic, the SBA prioritized multiple interrelated projects to improve employee remote connectivity. To improve connectivity, the agency migrated to Microsoft Teams, implemented cloud-based VPN capabilities, and began using cloud-based virtual desktops. SBA expects to realize a savings of $450,000 each year from migrating to VoIP phones once that migration is completed.

Sen. Hassan asked SBA how Congress can support ongoing modernization efforts.

In response, SBA said that “funding remains paramount in advancing modernization work.” The agency also said, “Congress can also help facilitate modernization efforts by balancing the burden placed on the SBA to respond to oversight reporting requests with staff time devoted to improving IT security and capabilities.” Specifically, SBA said Congress should focus on “data-driven analyses of the SBA’s IT portfolio, rather than time-intensive narrative reports or one-off data calls.” This focus “would result in more meaningful, informative, and timely oversight information,” the agency said.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.