Authority to Operate (ATO) is an essential part of the Risk Management Framework which is necessary to:

  • Certify that a system’s hardware, software, and connections are well established
  • Justify the software has clear purpose or use for the organization, and that the benefits of adopting the system outweigh the risks.

Traditionally, as shown in “How Manual ATO Processes Can Limit Digitization and Innovation,” authorizing an ATO is a multi-step, highly manual process involving extensive labor goes. The process is frustrating to employees, sparking everything from delayed production environments to unusable licenses to wasted employee time to shadow IT.

Fortunately, government agencies can overcome these pitfalls through Continuous Authority to Operate. This process,  first implemented by the Air Force, is a promising opportunity for other government agencies aiming to innovate and improve their processes. Many agencies still rely on the traditional manual ATO that costs them in finances, productivity, and time — all of which could be saved by investing in an automated ATO.

Continuous ATO and Its Benefits

In spite of how most compliance tasks are practiced, risk compliance does not need to take the form of excruciatingly long excel spreadsheets or frustratingly poor documentation. Automation streamlines manual processes which contribute to large overhead costs.

Investing in continuous ATO can curtail many of the negative side effects of a manual ATO process. Continuous ATO authorizes software throughout the development cycle by using automated DevSecOps technologies, making it more robust towards software changes post-authorization than manual ATOs. In contrast to manual ATO, approval happens throughout the development cycle – making it more robust. Other benefits to achieving continuous ATO may include:

  • Automation allows for easier continuous monitoring of risks even after the official ATO authorization. Security monitoring happens throughout the approval cycle rather than at the end, reinforcing safety and risk compliance.
  • Senior employees will be able to put their time toward more stimulating and meaningful tasks, which will improve productivity and morale.
  • There is less risk in investing in new software and licenses. The manual ATO could end up being drawn out for tight-budget operations, but a Continuous ATO will not impede rapid software release for time-sensitive projects.

Continuous ATO has a relatively high upfront cost, as it requires investing in software automation and process reengineering. Over time, these investments pay dividends. To succeed with Continuous ATO, agencies need to communicate upfront and set clear expectations between the contractor and the developer of the Continuous ATO. Considering the financial costs of a manual ATO and the labor and time of a drawn-out ATO process, Continuous ATO is the best option for agencies that must regularly undergo ATO processes.

There is much untapped potential to expand the innovation of Continuous ATO.  ITC brings nearly 20 years of Federal consulting experience, offering innovative solutions to the government and private sector.  ITC delivers Continuous ATO solutions, based on our deep understanding of Federal and Agency-specific security requirements (e.g., RMF, FEDRAMP, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, and ISO 27001), and led by ITC credentialed (CISSP, DoD 8570, Security+, Cloud+ and more) and cleared staff.