This year was a hallmark year for federal IT leaders. After some debate, much planning, and more than a few questions about how to fund the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), the federal CIO, Suzette Kent, has made awards to the USDA, HUD, the Departments of Labor and Energy, and the GSA. These IT modernization funds will be used by the agencies to migrate mainframes to the cloud (HUD), invest in enterprise cloud-based email system (Energy), build a portal for farmers (USDA), and transform the labor application process from a paper-based system to an electronic version.
And these initial awards are just the beginning of a rapid and much needed IT modernization process for the federal government. In fact, the President’s Budget has requested an additional $210 million for the TMF in FY19. With this in mind, we decided to check in with David Kushner, Vice President of Federal Sales at ViON to talk about how the TMF is reshaping government and what trends he expects to see in the coming year.
Government Technology Insider (GTI): What impact has the first round of funding from the Technology Modernization Fund had on agencies?
David Kushner (DK): While it’s a big deal for agencies to be able to apply for – and receive – funding for projects that can actually help them retire legacy systems, some of the biggest changes that have had significant positive impact on federal agencies has come from the ‘pre-work.’ What I mean by this is that in order to submit projects agencies have had to take stock of what they want to accomplish and then plan out every step and action. Agencies like the USDA have created centers of excellence that create best practices and become a repository of knowledge for how to accomplish these large-scale projects and a way to share this knowledge across the enterprise so they’re not recreating the wheel or wasting resources as these proposals are put together.
In terms of practical impacts, most agencies have chosen to find ways to break the cycle of spending on legacy infrastructure by moving to cloud-based as-a-service models. Not only does this approach get agencies off legacy systems quickly, but it also reduces CapEx and spend on operations and maintenance and alleviates the burdens of a long procurement cycle. Of these three benefits, reducing CapEx and spend on operations and maintenance by just five percent creates an additional pool of funding that the agencies can then use to fund further modernization efforts or invest in people with the skill sets to move modernization along more quickly.
GTI: This sounds like 2018 was a very good year! Were there any surprises along the way?
DK: The cynic in me says that the ratification of the federal budget and getting that first $100 million of fund the Technology Modernization Fund was a big surprise. After being in a holding pattern for the first three quarters, the last quarter of FY18 was a big relief to all.
The other thing that’s not so much of a surprise, but an evolution in thinking, was the change from the federal government’s Cloud First strategy to a Cloud Smart strategy. After nearly eight years of Cloud First, the change to Cloud smart has been a welcome one. Agencies are no longer under pressure to put everything in the cloud, but can focus instead on what works for them, their data, and mission requirements.
This hybrid approach, particularly when combined with pay-as-you-go or consumption model for storage and compute gives agencies the flexibility they need to meet the mission today but can also help them to explore how new data-driven technologies like AI can help them in the near future.
GTI: Speaking of the near future, what should agencies focus on in 2019?
DK: The overall priorities of ensuring the security of information and assets, of being cloud smart, going mobile, and data center optimization aren’t going to change anytime soon. Within those priorities agencies should focus on driving innovation, consolidation and upgrades to infrastructure, and rolling out AI, deep learning, and machine learning tools to support the mission.
To do this, they should continue to leverage the centers of excellence that have been established and they should spend and invest wisely. Smart spending and investment will involve being able to capitalize on savings from modernization activities but also looking to procure things from storage and compute to email ‘as-a-service.’ Many agencies were burned early on in the Cloud First era by getting locked into expensive and inflexible contracts for cloud storage and this has taught them the value of the as-a-service or consumption-based model. So, now it’s not only storage they expect to be available as-a-service but nearly anything and everything in the IT realm.