Federal operations are moving to the edge. IT must follow.

The federal government operates an increasingly distributed mission. From battlefields to warehouses to agricultural inspections, agencies need a technolog...

The federal government operates an increasingly distributed mission. From battlefields to warehouses to agricultural inspections, agencies need a technology architecture that adapts to their dispersed yet complex computing needs.

The urgency of this need can be seen in the astronomical rate of data growth, particularly at the edge or beyond the traditional perimeter. By 2023, Gartner predicts that “over 50% of the primary responsibility of data and analytics leaders will comprise data created, managed and analyzed in edge environments.” Consider sensors that monitor remote environments or wearables collecting insights from frontline workers; federal agencies need the infrastructure to process and act on this type of data, often at speed.

Edge solutions are the answer.

By combining localized computing, sophisticated Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and 5G network connectivity, edge solutions will help agencies conduct data-driven, advanced operations, no matter where the mission goes. The technology can deliver more timely analysis to soldiers on the battlefield, and can empower civilian agencies in essential mission sets, from telemedicine to disaster response.

The military recognizes this potential. The Defense Department’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) plans to use edge computing to connect sensors across military branches into a single network. This will give commanders vital information to drive warfighter performance in real time.

Edge solutions build on the power of the cloud

Edge solutions can be used to create a connected continuum of actionable data from the cloud all the way to the operational edge. The technology’s greatest potential lies in bringing the best of what the cloud can offer – including advanced tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning – to the network’s last mile.

In a recent report from Accenture, Extending IT to the Mission’s Edge, more than nine in 10 federal technology leaders say that edge solutions are either very or extremely important to meeting their agency’s mission needs.

For agencies operating dispersed missions or generating high volumes of data, edge solutions are critical to a holistic digital transformation. It will take a savvy marriage of cloud and edge capabilities to ingest and operationalize increasing quantities of data across all use cases. Without a focus on the edge, agencies may be leaving valuable data behind.

For agencies migrating to the cloud, there’s at least one important reason to consider edge solutions now: It’s more seamless to incorporate edge solutions earlier in agencies’ digital transformations – from an IT architecture and infrastructure point of view – rather than bolting on solutions somewhere down the line.

Inaction today also opens the door to security vulnerabilities. New endpoints could become a cyber liability if IT leaders don’t actively plan for their safeguards. More than half (54%) of those surveyed in the Accenture report cite cyber concerns as an obstacle to edge adoption.

There’s an opportunity to architect for that risk early, by implementing a common control plane in support of cybersecurity across both cloud and the edge.

Edge solutions will become an essential element of agencies’ digital transformation, but careful planning is needed today to bring that potential to fruition.

Steps forward

Federal leaders can take steps today to begin leveraging edge solutions in support of improved mission outcomes. How?

  • Reimagine the mission with edge solutions – IT leaders should first begin identifying areas where edge solutions will provide the most value.Across government, virtually every entity has a wealth of data that’s still untapped. It makes sense to start mapping now: What are the types of information you wish you had, and what would it take to gather that information? Operations that require dispersed, flexible, and rapid data processing are the most likely candidates for edge integration.
  • Plan for a platform –To ensure long-term success, agencies should take a platform-based approach to their edge solutions’ infrastructure. By prioritizing more modular, “plug and play” interoperability, agencies can build a technology architecture that can easily adapt to diverse and emerging mission needs.
  • Focus on connectivity – With 5G poised to deliver unprecedented volumes of data, government stands at the brink of a new era. Those that understand the strengths and drawbacks of 5G networks will have a marked advantage in adopting edge solutions. Don’t forget to consider complementary technologies, such as WiFi 6 or LoRaWAN, that may also fulfill diverse connectivity needs.
  • Secure by design – The mechanics of edge computing take place outside the traditional perimeter, and yet for security purposes, edge solutions must be considered as an integral part of the enterprise’s fabric. A zero-trust mindset is needed to safeguard both edge deployments and core enterprise systems and data.

We are soon going to see a divide between those who are able to understand and take advantage of edge solutions, and those who are not. Agencies that move on edge solutions will have more intelligent insights to drive action across the mission, anywhere and everywhere.

Chris Bjornson is the Cloud Practice Lead and Kyle Michl is the Chief Innovation Officer at Accenture Federal Services.

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