Each year starts off with a slew of predictions about what will come in the year ahead. Many of these musings are based on what people would like to see happen, rather than what will likely play out based on the realities of budgets and procurement cycles. Nonetheless, Federal CIOs find themselves overseeing a period of major change that is, more often than not, driven by their agency.
Over the last few weeks we’ve had the opportunity to listen to a number of IT leaders from both industry and the federal government, and what has stood out is how their priorities and concerns are in alignment. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of attention being paid to the impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI and ML), and cybersecurity remains top of mind. But there’s equal emphasis placed on concerns about workforce recruitment and retention or the ability of the federal workforce to embrace innovation, and how these will impact mission readiness.
To this end, we’ve put together the top challenges and opportunities for federal agencies in the coming year.
Let’s dive in!
Challenge 1: Driving Cultural Change in Federal Agencies
It’s no secret that federal government agencies can be slow to adapt and change. While bureaucracies move slowly for good reasons, the period of disruption that we’re currently in necessitates a willingness to embrace change. The reason agencies need to embrace change is not because there’s an impressive piece of tech that will look good, but because the federal workforce needs to attract and retain the best human talent in order to meet the mission.
“For defense agencies, the goal of allowing technology to help better support the warfighter is key,” says John West, Verizon’s Managing Director of Defense and National Security. “What advantages can bases and installations find when moving managed ‘as a service’ activities externally?”
Without, the best and brightest, agencies will struggle to find innovative solutions both to their current challenges and the new ones that are hurtling towards us more quickly than ever.
Challenge 2: Acquisition, Integration, and Setting the Right Course
As mentioned above, bureaucracies move slowly and have a lot of procedures for good reasons. Consideration of the consequences, acting in the best interests of the many not the few, and making fair decisions require carefully measured actions. But as with recruiting the best talent, being able to acquire new technology while it’s still new is vital to mission success. The acceptance of Other Transactional Authorities (OTAs) and pilot programs, as well as the push to buy not build, are helping agencies acquire new technologies more quickly.
But the ability to buy and not build, as well as adding new infrastructure and applications more quickly, creates its own challenges for agencies, most noticeably around integration. We all know the impact that technology silos have had on federal agency performance in the past and as they attempt to divest legacy technology and drive IT modernization programs.
“In 2020, increased availability of newer and more advanced technologies will certainly create challenges for federal agencies,” says John Larregui, Managing Partner of Federal Mobile Solutions at Verizon. “Getting buy-in from the organization and prioritizing security are paramount in all initiatives will be a constant theme for the year.”
One way for agencies to set the right course as they evaluate new technologies like AI, and even more established workhorses like cloud storage and compute, is to find a guide, whether that’s a trusted technology partner from the private sector or through the GSA’s IT Modernization Centers of Excellence program. As many agencies now know, moving to the cloud doesn’t automatically save money and many agencies will learn that AI likewise isn’t the panacea for engagement, automation, and speed, but there are resources available to help each agency set the right course to meet the mission.
Challenge 3: Security, Security, and Security
Securing an agency’s IT infrastructure from the core to the edge is already a herculean task, and it is one that will only become more complex as new technology rolls out. One of the biggest challenges will be in securing the supply chain as agencies continue to buy and not build. Every element of the supply chain for hardware and software needs to be scrutinized to confirm that a new mobile device won’t introduce a new threat vector, or the use of a seemingly benign messaging app won’t open the door to malware that can siphon petabytes of data and remain undetected.
However, in introducing new technology, like 5G for example, without enabling its capabilities, mutes the impact of innovation. Instead of shying away from the opportunities that next-gen technology brings to the agency and the mission putting security front and center of every decision and every action is the only way to proceed. Security must be “baked into” every piece of software, every piece of hardware, every piece of network infrastructure, and every decision. If you secure the supply chain and work with partners and vendors that are as committed to security as your agency is, protecting the security and integrity of the infrastructure and data that drives the mission will still be a monumental task but one that can be approached with confidence because the foundations are firmly in place.