How the Technology Modernization Fund can deliver value once the pandemic dollars run out

The Technology Modernization Fund intends to spend its remaining $500 million — of the $1 billion allocated in the American Rescue Plan — by the end of the ...

The Technology Modernization Fund intends to spend its remaining $500 million — of the $1 billion allocated in the American Rescue Plan — by the end of the year. According to the fund’s structure, funding recipients must replenish the TMF with the money saved as a result of the modernization projects they invest in. However, the Government Accountability Office has consistently reported that the TMF lacks sufficient fee collection and reliable cost estimates.

The imbalance stems in part from the fact that the majority of the TMF’s funding thus far has been allocated for emergency pandemic-related spending rather than scalable and holistic transformation. While COVID-19 related expenses are entirely understandable, it is time for IT modernization initiatives to pivot to a more sustainable and strategic mindset.

By adopting agile technology that ensures present and future resilience, federal agencies and the taxpayer can save costs in the long-term. Those savings will be critical considering the TMF was only allocated $100 million for fiscal year 2023, as opposed to the $300 million requested by the current administration.

Citizen experience: The IT modernization North Star

As the countdown to the end of another federal fiscal year weighs heavily on the minds of agency IT leaders, it’s imperative to consider the long-term effects of procuring certain technology and hastily modernizing IT systems.

The underpinning for all IT modernization efforts should be improved citizen and employee experience to strengthen the public’s trust in the government services they rely upon. That trust will not be produced through the flashiest or most cutting-edge user experience, but rather through consistency of constituent engagement across federal agencies.

Last year’s executive order on improving federal customer experience states that CX and service delivery should be “driven fundamentally by the voice of the customer through human-centered design methodologies; empirical customer research; an understanding of behavioral science and user testing, especially for digital services.” As such, any TMF related spending should be supported by tangible customer experience data and citizen need. Collecting and analyzing citizen satisfaction survey results is one way the TMF can ensure the funding it awards is being capitalized on efficiently.

Furthermore, citizen satisfaction has been proven to be linked to predictability. By managing the citizen’s expectations for challenging tasks, meeting the citizen with empathy, and mitigating any surprises during the citizen interaction, CX can be dramatically improved. However, reaching a level of predictability and consistency across federal agencies will necessitate interoperable technology, a longstanding hurdle for the federal government.

Why a whole-of-government approach is difficult, and why it’s necessary

Interoperability is a systemic issue that can be addressed by procuring technology through a top-down approach. By building modern IT systems strategically at the enterprise level, government can reap the full benefits and offerings of those systems without running into interagency collaboration challenges.

Not only would a top-down approach improve CX by making digital government experience more accessible and efficient but adopting holistic and functional technology that can function seamlessly across departments would have substantial benefits for government employees by reducing what the CX EO refers to as the “time-tax,” the time spent on preventable administrative burdens. Reducing the time tax cuts costs in addition to saving time and allows government employees to allocate their attention to more demanding, high-impact tasks.

For the best possible outcomes on CX and employee experience, all modernization initiatives should be designed with agility at the forefront. While futureproofing may not be feasible in the current, exponentially advancing technology ecosystem, designing processes that can adapt to new technologies as they arise means entire systems would not have to be overhauled again in the future. While some digital transformation projects in the present do require substantial changes to be made, not all legacy systems should be entirely abandoned. Rather than modernization for modernization’s sake, all upgrades should be founded on measurable citizen or employee need.

Agencies should seek to procure technology from industry partners who recognize that the “rip-and-replace” methodology is not workable in the federal setting. By meeting agencies where they are and building upon legacy systems, improvements can be made to citizen interactions with the government with minimal disruptions to operations.

Additionally, government CIOs and CTOs must collaborate closely with each other and with industry partners to implement an enterprise-level, top-down approach to modernization. With more robust coordination, CX and employee experiences could be standardized to improve the predictability of citizen-agency interactions, rebuild the public’s trust in the federal government and save funds in the long term.

Scaling gains while maintaining consistency

By procuring holistic technology and investing in systems that are already interoperable, agencies can expedite digital transformation while reducing the cost associated with that transformation. Agency IT leaders should prioritize CX consistency over cutting-edge innovation to achieve reliability for citizen engagement with the government during pivotal moments in those citizens’ lives. Doing so will generate public confidence in the government to assist the citizens they serve and be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar.

Comprehensive IT modernization will never happen overnight. If agencies place too much emphasis on addressing immediate challenges and, as a result, prioritize piecemeal reactionary spending rather than proactive procurement, they will limit the funding and bandwidth available for more scalable improvements. Strategic investments at the enterprise level will reap the best possible outcomes from unprecedented funding currently available through avenues such as TMF and position agencies to scale modernization into the future.

Eric Head is area vice president for Adobe Sign, Federal.


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