New decade, new tech: What government agencies will prioritize in 2020

The government sector has historically been slow to adopt new technologies. While the White House reported spending over $94 billion on information technology in 2017, much of that budget went towards maintaining or updating legacy systems instead of investing in innovative new solutions.

But we’re entering a new decade, and change is on the horizon. Here are four predictions for technology trends in the government sector next year:

The U.S. will learn by example and finally move away from legacy tech

Across the globe, many other governing bodies, such as the European Commission, have already made significant efforts to migrate their federal agencies to the cloud. In contrast, the U.S. government has historically been more conservative with its technology adoption, relying heavily on legacy tech stacks.

The ten most outdated legacy systems the government uses cost $337 million per year to operate. We can’t afford to keep this up. In order to cut costs and stay aligned with tech-savvy countries in 2020, we’ll see more U.S. government agencies make modernization a priority and shift to the cloud.

And we’re already starting to see this happen. In 2020, federal agencies plan to move 272 information technology programs to the cloud and are considering migrating more than 1,000 on top of that. New government mandates such as the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy will also help agencies implement cloud technologies successfully. This mandate prioritizes three primary areas — security, procurement, and workforce — to drive cloud adoption by removing burdensome policy barriers.

Agencies will adopt a zero trust mindset

As federal agencies shift to the cloud, they need to be prepared to deal with unique security risks. Before cloud and mobile came into the picture, securing sensitive data was a much simpler process than it is today. Agencies could assume any access requests that originated inside their organizations’ networks were safe, while requests from outside the network perimeter were not. However, the rise of the cloud has led to more employees working remotely and from a variety of devices. In this kind of environment, agencies can no longer assume users can be trusted simply based on network location.

Adopting a zero trust strategy is one of the best ways to keep a cloud environment secure, and we can expect to see this approach become even more commonplace in the federal sector. Organizations need to verify all users before granting access to data. By implementing strong access controls, agencies can give users access to resources from anywhere while still maintaining tight, centralized security.

Many federal agencies have already begun to recognize the value of this approach. In November, for example, the U.S. Navy released a delivery plan for its enterprise IT services and included Zero Trust as one of the primary strategies. The U.S. Air Force is another example: it implemented an identity access management (IAM) solution to help strengthen its zero trust approach. IAM helps the Air Force improve security with nonactive members by enforcing authentication based on identity, rather than the firewall/perimeter of the organization.

Citizens will demand closer engagement with the government sector

U.S. citizens want a seamless experience accessing government applications as quickly and conveniently as they access their banking apps. Research shows the majority of Americans use the internet to access government information and hope the federal sector improves its digital experience in the coming years.

To keep up with this demand and streamline communication with voters, federal agencies need to upgrade their technology. There are many ways agencies might improve communication. For example, they could create apps that allow people to register to vote, manage healthcare, and even dispute parking tickets.

Agencies will continue to eliminate passwords but shift away from traditional identity cards

81% of hacking-related breaches were as a result of weak, stolen, or reused passwords, according to Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report. On top of posing security risks, password reliance is time-consuming and inefficient. On average, 25% of people forget at least one of their passwords daily, and most people need to access over 90 accounts. Keeping track of hundreds of different credentials is a significant challenge for employees, particularly because password complexity requirements often vary by application.

Due to the risks associated with passwords, much of the government sector has adopted Personal Identity Verification (PIV) cards to grant access to federal facilities and information systems and ensure appropriate levels of security for federal applications. However, these smart cards still have flaws when it comes to passwordless authentication, as there have been technical glitches and administrative issues with PIV. To stay secure and keep up with evolving technology, the public sector is shifting away from these traditional PIV cards to other secure, but more user-friendly authentication methods such as biometric identifiers (i.e. face and fingerprint recognition) and physical security tokens.

Secure, seamless, and efficient digital experiences will be the overarching theme for technology trends in the government sector next year. Organizations and agencies that migrate to the cloud, prioritize security, and meet citizen demand for open communication will start the new decade off on the right foot.

Neha Anand is group product manager at Okta


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