Digital transformation in civilian services sparks demand for new agency role

We know that true modernization impacts effectiveness and efficiency for agencies, but to achieve real change it requires not just new technology but a balanced...

Today’s conversation goes far beyond the need to migrate off expensive hardware, instead placing a greater emphasis on large-scale modernization efforts that power data-enabled missions. The time is ripe for agencies to take a deeper digital transformation plunge, one that prioritizes investments in enabling technology and cultural change management that optimizes the journey civilians take to interact with that agency for the highest return on investment. To achieve that level of modernization, vision matters. We know that true modernization impacts effectiveness and efficiency for agencies, but to achieve real change it requires not just new technology but a balanced mix of culture, people and processes that elevate the technology, to drive enterprise-level transformation. Federal government resilience and innovation within the civil sector requires cloud-native thinking, paired with championing a new kind of role – the chief transformation and strategy officer (CTSO).

Why the time is ripe for large-scale modernization

Within the civilian space, there are multiple accelerants driving mission modernization and cloud advancement. The major cost and efficiency benefits associated with taking advantage of cloud innovation are already well established. The newer, critical piece is a culture of heightened expectations. Today’s citizens are accustomed to the instant gratification and have high expectations for their online interactions with the federal government. They increasingly expect efficient and personalized experiences which are only possible with integrated data sharing capabilities, facilitated by the cloud.

AI holds incredible promise to deliver a better civilian experience at scale – but only if the cloud foundation is there. Another new accelerant is the promise of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Cloud is critical for AI adoption, an outcome of elastic processing power and the ability to store large data sets on which AI can be trained. AI can also be used to make cloud operations more efficient, monitor for security vulnerabilities, and drive efficiencies around data sharing.

A new role that fosters interagency collaboration

Despite these forces pushing modernization forward, many federal agencies continue to struggle with establishing the right infrastructure and processes early enough in the digital transformation process. This impedes implementation accuracy and platform scalability, while presenting resiliency challenges. Agencies still face ongoing struggles with unplanned down time and security vulnerabilities, especially as the cloud attack surface expands. And while chief information officers can help secure the enterprise and make IT decisions, and the chief technology officer can identify, adopt and scale emerging technology, there’s still a personnel gap across civilian agencies. The solution lies in a role that goes beyond the traditional CTO or CIO to a new role that colors outside mission lines.

The CTSO would be dedicated to leading change efforts across sector presidents, from chief financial officer, operating officer, technology officer, product officer and CEO. The role should be focused on developing new strategic operating plans that inform enterprises of large-scale modernization investments in internal efficiencies as well as external capabilities. For example, while the agency’s chief information security officer might oversee what to do from a zero-trust architecture perspective, the CTSO can tackle larger civilian issues – such as making a commitment to the American people to demonstrably advance the citizen experience within the next 12 months, which normally would be the job of the chief experience officer. Sitting at the intersection of data, cyber, cloud and mission capability, the CTSO would act as the agency’s product owner for larger technology decisions. The IRS has already implemented this role and is seeing success with it – pointing to the potential of this role for mass-scale modernization if it was implemented across other agencies as well.

Core attributes of the CTSO role should include:

  • Balancing agency background with business acumen: This individual must be well-versed in first laying out the outcomes needed from a mission and business perspective, and then working to uncover any entrenched blind spots. The CTSO should be an individual who understands the agencies’ inner workings well but has experience building long term business enterprise strategies and executing against them.
  • Acting as a change agent: This role must balance the opinions of multiple stakeholders to foster an organization of learning, building excitement around the promise of enterprise transformation. They must be dedicated to addressing organizational friction, working to align stakeholders with different interests to drive forward a transformational vision. This individual cannot be afraid of difficult conversations.
  • Building connective tissue: Historically, civilian agencies have faced a chasm between the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer and business lines, as they move at different paces and work to solve unique problems. The CTSO role can act as connective tissue between these organizations, building synergies between business lines and the Office of the CIO.
  • Establishing decision-making authority: The CTSO role should report directly to the commissioner. Having the highest kind of sponsorship of the agency is another core tenant of the role, so this individual can drive large-scale impact.

The civil sector has progressed to a point of true citizen behavioral change. As the cloud continues to mature and scale, there’s a new undertone of IT modernization and transformation across civilian projects, with the potential to radically transform civilians’ everyday lives. By thinking bigger picture about the needs and services that should be overhauled by the cloud and the power of digital transformation, the CTSO role can enable rapid change and progress for the American people. The institutions and leaders willing to adapt by championing this new CTSO role will garner vast amounts of critical data and cloud capability experience — allowing them to develop long-term strategies that businesses, enterprises and federal agencies can execute against to achieve resiliency.

Delie Minaie is vice president of digital and cloud solutions at Booz Allen Hamilton.

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