So far, in this series about building the government of the future, we’ve talked about a lot of possibilities, but mostly in theoretical terms. However, as the Modernizing Government Technology Act gets closer to becoming law, there’s suddenly a need to get very practical; to start making plans, deciding what to buy, and how to integrate new acquisitions into existing infrastructure.
I don’t think for a second that any federal CIO will go on an unfettered spending spree. However, I do think there’s some advice I can share about how to approach this monumental task to help agency IT leaders from falling into the upgrade the legacy IT conundrum. Quite simply where there’s the opportunity to buy new IT, there’s also the opportunity to continue to be trapped by legacy IT and to kick the proverbial can down the road.
In its most basic form, my advice is simple: Keep future-focused and don’t take the easy way out. It will be ever so tempting to just fix a system now to keep it running for a little bit longer. If it’s broken, let it stay that way and, if it’s about to break, let it break, and leave it alone. Keep moving forward aggressively and focus on the long-term. Do not under any circumstance buy old IT, or squander your budget by using it to support legacy systems. Do not under any circumstances buy actual software, or actual hardware.
The government of the future demands that you invest in services not systems.
This IT mission shift will undoubtedly cause some short term pain and more than a little cognitive dissonance as we all adjust to buying IT as services not “stuff.” However, the long term gain will be more than worth it because with no, or at least fewer, systems to maintain, or upgrade, CIOs are suddenly freed from perpetrating version 2.0 of the legacy IT conundrum. Moreover, CIOs and their agency counterparts are afforded an opportunity to examine the mission and identify what elements must be owned by the agency and what can be managed as a service.
Take immigration, for example. What is the mission-critical function that needs to be controlled by the Department of Homeland Security? It’s not the preparation of immigration files and production of authorization documentations. The mission-critical, inherently governmental, elements of this process are in fact deciding the immigration status and, to a lesser extent, ensuring the integrity and security of the data used to make the decision. And when you look at the mission support function, all of a sudden a cloud-based, data-driven environment is a viable, even preferable option, and all the other less critical functions can go out to contract.
However, as federal CIOs already know, that the IT modernization funding available to them will never be sufficient enough, or last long enough, to address every need. As agencies look to build the government of the future, investing in shared services will be imperative. Not only does the strategic sourcing of shared services for everything from application development to storage help contain costs, it builds in agility and avoids customization.
In the same way that owning software and hardware recreates the legacy IT problem, investing in customized solutions reinforces the problem Mission-focused applications need to be re-invented time and time again to address new challenges as they arrive and enhance the ability to deliver services to citizens and constituents in ways that deliver greater effectiveness, better quality of life, and all of the other things government agencies were actually created to do.
There’s so much more to talk about – I haven’t even touched on the logistics of the procurement process – in terms of taking another step closer to the government of the future, shifting perspective from owning hardware and software to investing in services is an essential step. When they no longer have to worry about what they’ll do when their last COBOL programmer doesn’t come into work, or when the agency’s data center exceeds capacity, again, CIOs will be able to invest in services that directly support the mission first and foremost.
Robert F. Hahn II, Ph.D. is President of Government Solutions at Reed Tech. Prior to joining Reed Tech, Dr. Hahn worked at Serco Inc., Pitney Bowes Inc. and served 21 years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army. He’ll be writing a monthly column for FTI focusing on the challenges and possibilities that federal agencies face as they embark on citizen-centric IT modernization projects. Next month he’ll be sharing his best practices for modernization with us. Why not sign up so you never miss Dr. Hahn’s insights!