The breadth of the IT challenges facing federal agencies was on display during a CIO panel at GovernmentCIO Media’s CXO Tech Forum on July 17.
For David Shive, CIO of the General Services Administration, it’s all about trying to keep up with the speed of innovation.
“Our biggest IT challenge right now is keeping up with the rapid pace of change in technology, [which is] mirrored by the rapid change of business practices in government,” Shive said. “There are large swaths of the federal government that aren’t even digitized yet … We have foundational technology that needs to be done.”
Meanwhile, the State Department demonstrates the digital lag. It still wrestles with such fundamental issues as maintaining connectivity in places where Internet access is rudimentary, at best.
“We have 276 posts abroad – how do you connect all of them?” said Robert Adams, principal deputy CIO. “They all face challenges of one sort or another, whether infrastructure or political and economic issues.”
Take the idea of moving to the cloud, for instance. Adams pointed out that in addition to the other challenges State Department embassies, consulates and offices around the world face, there’s the physics of it all – latency issues make cloud solutions often unworkable.
“Can I get the data closer? Anything to reduce distances,” he said. “How can I reduce latency, [and] the distance from the endpoint to the data and servers?”
One area the two think similarly about – though with different capabilities at hand – is the increased use of analytics.
“What gets measured gets done,” Shive said. The government has a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers to deliver good outcomes for the money it spends on technology, he explained.
This year the State Department formed a team to examine how to use data to make more effective decisions, Adams said. “It’s by looking at the technology business management model [that] we can change our internal processes,” he said.
Adams said the department is making a big push to identify and reduce duplicative services and “rogue IT,” which can be anything from individual employees’ personal devices to laptops, printers, and other equipment an individual office might have purchased directly and connected to the network.
Echoing Shive’s comment that “the CIO of yesterday, the pure technologist is going to have a pretty short tenure in government,” Paul Parker, Chief Technologist, federal and national government, at SolarWinds, noted that “from a strategy perspective, IT leaders should consider what tools and services they need to support the mission.” He continued, “The function of IT services in the public sector is to support the agency in delivering real services to real people, whether that is in healthcare, international affairs, defense, or social security.”