The federal government is trying to transform itself, not with technology alone but by focusing on its core missions and assessing how technology can facilitate their accomplishment.
That’s one conclusion to be drawn from a panel of executives from four of the biggest federal departments, speaking at the Brocade Federal Forum June 17. Their topic: the impact of networks on key federal IT initiatives.
“We’re trying to get out of the ‘what do I own, what do I buy, what do I maintain’ [approach],” to what do we need to accomplish,” said David DeVries, principal deputy CIO at the Defense Department.
Margie Graves, deputy CIO at the Homeland Security Department, agreed. “We enable the mission space for impact and delivery … How we do that really ensures the success of each of our missions.”
“My focus is really looking ahead three years or so,” said Maria Roat, the Department of Transportation CTO. “It’s not just about the technology. I have to absolutely know the business of transportation.”
The prospect of the Internet of Things (IoT) holds the promise of great change in transportation, Roat continued. The challenge is how to bring that environment into the workings of DoT.
Frank Baitman, CIO of the Health and Human Services Department, said one change he sees ahead is “network computing [itself] becoming your platform.”
Graves noted that IT trends are moving toward to the Internet as transport. “This is going to be a challenge for us because it can’t be done the way it has been done [until now]. In a hybrid environment, you can’t be up in the middle of the night to open firewalls.”
Mobility – its pervasiveness, and users’ need for access to networks any time, anywhere – continues to be a big driver in the government space.
“If you think about [our] missions at HHS, so many Americans in need are getting on line through mobile devices,” Baitman said. “We need to be in the forefront of delivering services … I think mobility is changing everything. [It’s a] democratizing technology.”
Graves agreed, citing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mission as an example. “FEMA supports the public on the worst days of their lives. The way that do that is with mobile applications [that] provide the correct kind of help and assistance that would help them get back on their feet.”
But getting any agency, let alone the federal government as a whole, to integrate technology and change how it operates is a huge challenge.
“Scope and scale matter here,” DoD’s DeVries said. “We are not tiny, we’re the largest thing going. Nothing is going to change overnight … There’s a huge change management [challenge] within the federal space and within DoD.”
Compounding that challenge is the real-world issue of budgets. “One of the problems in government is capital expenditures and operating expenditures,” Baitman said. “We have to have a serious conversation with systems integrators on how to lower our operating costs year over year … so that we can make investments in infrastructure.”