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Federal agencies, in recent years finding themselves saddled with technical debt, have started thinking about IT modernization more as a continuous process than as a discrete thing you do periodically. Continuous modernization requires planning and strategizing on both the technology and the financial fronts, including analyzing when to update or replace a system before it becomes a maintenance cost sink.
In this video, a panel of federal experts in IT discussed how to become future-proof by not only thinking about the future but also how ensure it doesn’t arrive before you’ve got a plan.
The U.S. Agency For International Development has been on a 10-year process of getting of the data center business and moving its IT resources to the commercial cloud.
Of modernization, chief technology officer Sukhvinder Singh said, “Absolutely, it is a journey. It’s not like you are done with a few projects, and you can claim, ‘Okay, I’m done with my modernization.’ Every day, we hear of new technologies; of new, better ways to do things.”
Singh added, “For us, it’s a continuous process. We look at how we can further improve.” He said serverless computing, containerization, machine learning and artificial intelligence are among the next round of capabilities USAID is looking at to enable its mission in a more efficient and effective way.
The Government Accountability Office has perhaps the best view of modernization efforts across government. Its director of IT and cybersecurity issues, Kevin Walsh, named four elemental considerations when approaching modernization.
“We want them to consider the risks associated with modernization, the costs, whether the mission of the system is critical, and the performance of the system,” Walsh said. He added those criteria for investment apply even in cases where the mission itself may not have changed. Agencies like IRS or the Social Security Administration do essentially the same thing decade after decade, but can’t do so with decades-old technology.
Gordon Bitko is former chief information officer at the FBI, and now senior vice president for policy at the Information Technology Industry Council. He said one shortcut to future-proofing is to identify where your agency can use solutions that already exist.
“Where can you take advantage of those things that industry has already figured out,” Bitko said, “or that other agencies have already figured out, and that you can just use as they are? And get those into the hands of the users in the agency, the people who are doing the day to day work of the agency.”
Another important way to future-proof systems is simply to not wait too long. That’s according to Dave Turner, the president and CEO of Hitachi Vantara Federal. He said agencies typically wait until an existing application or system becomes unstable. But with new solutions arriving so frequently, “now agencies are faced with the opportunity of a newer technology to replace something that actually is viable,” Turner said.
With increasing frequency, Turner added, the improvement in the cost basis or functionality justifies modernizing a system sooner than the IT staff might have under traditional thinking.
Said Bitko, “Modernization isn’t a point-in-time thing. It’s not a defined set of projects. It’s a mindset that you have to continue to deliver the capabilities that the agency expects, that the mission users expect, and that the citizens who depend on that agency expect.”
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Senior Vice President of Policy, Information Technology Industry Council
Director of IT and Cybersecurity, Government Accountability Office
Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Agency for International Development
President and Chief Executive Officer, Hitachi Vantara Federal
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