In part one of this series, Nick Psaki, Principal Technologist at Pure Storage explained the challenges that government agencies face when trying to implement modern data infrastructure changes. For part two of this series, we talked with Psaki about best practices for overcoming these challenges by leveraging data to successfully implement digital transformation plans.
Government Technology Insider (GTI): What are some of the best practices for implementing successful and secure digital transformation plans?
Nick Psaki (NP): The agencies who have done this the best, at every echelon of government, always start with a plan. They start by asking, “Why?”
The most fundamental thing for the successful execution of a digital transformation plan is knowing who you are, what you’ve got to offer, where you’re trying to go, and why you’re doing this. Once you know that, then you can work to understand the technologies that can help you get there.
It’s the old 80-20 rule. You spend 80 percent of your time planning and 20 percent of your time executing. In government, that can take years to make sure that you’ve got a coherent, well-understood, and achievable digital transformation strategy.
Digital transformation in government becomes complicated because you have to consider the other agencies that you work with, cooperate with, or who may be impacted by your decisions. You need to look at what those other agencies are doing and how they are doing it.
A great example of this is how the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Veterans Administration (VA) are working on standardizing their electronic health care system. Almost everybody who comes out of the DoD on active duty becomes eligible for VA assistance. So, it’s incredibly important to ensure there is health care portability between the two agencies.
How we think about storage has fundamentally changed. It’s not where you’re dumping your data, it’s about where you’re leveraging your data. People are paying a lot more attention to the performance qualities and characteristics of their storage, not as storage devices or even storage platforms, but as data leverage and data service infrastructures.
Data is the single most valuable resource in an organization. If you have no data, you have no purpose. The evolution of cloud and the growth of data have really caused technology professionals, CIOs, technical directors, and others to ask themselves: how do I get the most out of this?
Agencies can take advantage of these technologies in ways that enable them to take hold of their data without having to go through tremendously laborious processes that used to take 18 to 36 months in the past. We really do live in a golden age for government technology.
GTI: What are some of the ways that the pandemic accelerated the modernization of government agencies?
NP: I’ve had the opportunity to talk with several CIOs about the impact of the pandemic on government agencies. Previously, they had 90 percent of their workforce in offices and 10 percent working remotely. It was widely believed that there was no way that remote work could possibly take the place of in-office activity to reach the desired levels of productivity and efficiency. And at the time, the networks and digital infrastructure were architected accordingly.
When the pandemic hit, the ratios flipped to almost polar opposites. In a government workforce that numbers 22 million, 10 percent of the people were working in offices and 90 percent were working at home. That’s a lot of people outside the firewall at that point.
The cyber security implications and bandwidth considerations of that flip were vast. We didn’t just have government employees working from home, but their kids were attending school from home too. As a result, the amount of bandwidth required in an average household went up dramatically. And everybody’s virtual private networks (VPN) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) got tremendous workouts.
One thing that I thought was laudable was that the fundamental premises, defined capabilities, and components that agencies established in their infrastructure proved valid and sound when they had to reverse the scale of everything. VDI was easily scalable. Cloud was easily adoptable. VPNs, networks, and firewalls were easily adapted to deal with the reversal ratios from in-office to remote work. This was all possible because the principles of design for the architectures at almost every agency allowed them to evolve their environment.
Changing their mindset and changing their culture was forced by circumstances, but the technology was ready to deliver. You didn’t see anybody throwing out what they had in order to get new stuff. You saw everybody adding on to the capabilities that they already had.
I think that that’s one of the unsung success stories across government IT. I’m deeply impressed with the foresight, adaptability, and flexibility of the infrastructure that has been procured and implemented broadly across government. Personally, as a citizen, taxpayer and a former government systems architect, it was exciting to see that our big bets paid off. The assertions, hypotheses, and the methods that we had implemented to address these problems proved valid in our time of need. It was undoubtedly sad that we had to prove the validity of them, but it was also gratifying to see that it worked the way it was supposed to work when it was time for it to work.
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