Enacting IT change in 2022

The federal government should utilize the funding available and positive momentum for IT initiatives to not only meet the demands of today but of the future, as...

Agencies marked their second year of remote work in 2021, requiring ongoing flexibility and adaptability from government. As we start 2022, agency leaders are reflecting on the technology updates they made early on, looking to maximize investments long-term.

This strategy not only supports agencies’ individual modernization goals, but the overarching push from the current administration to advance the federal government’s IT initiatives and capabilities. There has been encouraging progress spurred by the cybersecurity executive order issued in May and the expanded Technology Modernization Fund in March, providing $1 billion in funding for IT modernization projects.

As agency leaders look ahead, we’ll see further modernization and evolution of IT landscapes including initiatives for improving digital services, increasing data democratization and changes to the FITARA scorecard to incorporate new priorities (while removing items that have been successfully completed). The federal government should utilize the funding available and positive momentum for IT initiatives to not only meet the demands of today but of the future, as government continues to incorporate technology to drive mission success.

In 2022, several IT modernization trends will emerge, including:

Citizen digital expectations will evolve to provide access to government resources online in a few clicks.

The pandemic forced many aspects of government work to move remote, including many citizen services. Town hall meetings were broadcasted, government offices began communicating updates through social media platforms and citizens logged in to pay parking tickets, apply for licenses and process tax payments, all to reduce face-to-face interaction without hindering citizen services. For citizens, this change was welcome, since many were already used to interfacing online with private enterprises, from filling out and submitting paperwork to accessing digital portals for account information.

As citizens have become accustomed to viewing government systems online — from tracking COVID cases to unemployment applications, checking public transportation schedules and applying for licenses or processing payments — user experience expectations have evolved significantly in a short period of time. Now, the public not only expects to have digital services, but also that the digital options are easy, functional, integrated and streamlined.

To achieve this level of digital services for citizens, agencies should implement Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) solutions. iPaaS solutions provide public sector institutions, including federal agencies, with the ability to create a single, seamless, connected communication platform to meet modern expectations. iPaaS delivers a cloud service for application, data, process and service-oriented architecture (SOA) integration that supports wherever applications and data reside, be it on-prem, cloud, mainframe, container or edge.

With huge amounts of government data being gathered across endpoints including edge, iPaaS solutions can provide crucial support to automate processes, deliver the right data to the right people and generate actionable intelligence. The real-time exchanges, in spite of cloud complexity, enable government to improve citizen portals that may need to communicate with state and local entities, hospitals, insurance providers and other departments within the agency, ensuring information is made available seamlessly regardless of the original source.

IPaaS solutions can also assist with modernization efforts that will lead to more frequent adoption of IT initiatives.

The need for data democratization will lead to widespread low code/no code adoption and, in turn, empower more public sector employees to support IT initiatives.

With the TMF and the recent infrastructure bill supplying added funding, there has been increased demand for federal workers to carry out new or revitalized IT initiatives and projects. Agencies are hiring more workers to build out IT teams across the government. While recruitment and reskilling are strong tactics, another may reside in enabling more people to advance agency digital transformation objectives with low code/no code adoption.

With low code/no code iPaaS platforms, IT integration and application development can be done without manual coding. This empowers non-technical team members to support integrations and accelerate digital transformation; it provides a way for more current federal employees to support IT initiatives without advanced technical skills.

Agencies can then reduce the number of technical employees needed to integrate systems manually, which enables technical employees to focus on more complex IT needs and projects. Low code/no code adoption takes the integration burden from the most highly skilled IT talent and allows others to participate.

Growing IT teams and the prioritization of modernization projects will trickle into legislation and regulation, including FITARA scorecards.

Updates to FITARA will more accurately reflect and incorporate new IT priorities and transition the scorecards to a “living” document.

The release of the FITARA 13.0 results in January showed less change than previous scorecards, with 13 agencies’ overall grade remaining the same. While the numerous A grades and noted improvements are positive, the scorecards’ lack of change signals the work that still needs to be done.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) commented that the scorecards should empower and incentivize CIOs to improve federal IT, not just highlight areas of strength. As such, the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations announced plans to revise the FITARA methodology. New components could include workforce development, customer experience, legacy IT retirement and supply chain management and more.

FITARA’s evaluation metrics offer transparency into federal agencies’ IT modernization efforts and shed light on the progress made and areas for improvement. Leveraging FITARA can support TMF project decision-making and implementation success. When the TMF oversight board reviews applications, it can take these scores into account — an agency with a high or improving score would have a higher probability of successfully completing the project objectives. On the other hand, the scores would also show the greatest areas for improvement. The board could judiciously select projects that allow agencies to improve in a way that minimizes risk and increases overall success.

Using FITARA as a baseline metric could not only help with the TMF funding but also any upcoming legislation, which is why the scorecards should be updated to reflect more urgent needs and priorities. Moving FITARA to a more “living” state — one that adapts to developments and needs rather than remaining stagnant — pushes agencies to continue IT modernization initiatives. It can also provide greater awareness amongst agencies on others’ efforts, supporting conversation and collaboration for greater success.

Federal agencies are continuing to make progress on their IT modernization journeys. With the pandemic spurring quick action and now additional funding opportunities, government is primed to make even more progress in 2022. These IT modernization initiatives are necessary to meet shifts in citizen expectations for online services, grow the federal workforce and strengthen our nation’s cybersecurity posture. 2022 looks to be a year of continued progress.

Joseph Flynn is public sector chief technology officer at Boomi.

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