“Digital transformation” is the new catchphrase for IT modernization efforts across the public and private sectors, and the Defense Department has embraced it to make sure its agencies are secure and efficient.
But what is a smart approach to digital transformation? Dave Zukowski, principal technical consultant for public sector at Akamai, says it’s taking an organization into account holistically — its processes, people and tools — and leaning into digital technology to improve operations and free up workers from burdensome tasks.
Organizations like DoD can harness digital transformation by taking a hard look at their internal operations, he said during the Federal News Network’s second annual DoD Cloud Exchange.
He used the Air Force as an example, noting the intense training and equipment maintenance required to continuously operate air fleets worldwide: “If we can minimize the amount of highly trained airmen we have to deploy at any given base because the aircraft themselves are talking to us and telling us what they need, then we can put less people in the field and have more people home,” Zukowski said. “Digital transformation is scouring information looking for things, managing the logistics of the parts, and it becomes a force multiplier.”
Look deep at operations before tackling transformation
Defense and other agencies need a certain amount of self-awareness to be able to identify where, when and how putting an emphasis on digital transformation will benefit them the most, he said.
“Agencies need to ask themselves why and understand the imperatives behind the directives,” Zukowski said. “You can’t treat it as a shiny new interface on something you’re already doing. You really need to focus on how that outcome will help organizations ground themselves in what should be a digital transformation reality.”
The focus needs to be on outcomes ultimately, he said. Agencies should focus on the operations and activities that they want to streamline and make better. As in the Air Force example, Zukowski, “Those force multipliers is really where we kind of get the biggest bang for the buck.”
Three questions to focus digital transformation efforts
He suggested three questions a DoD agency should ask itself about a potential digital transformation initiative:
Why are we doing this?
What is the mission imperative?
How will it help the mission?
Once an agency understands and works through the answers to these questions, it can then look at how it can use technology to lessen repetitive or mundane tasks performed by its workforce.
Technology is not the goal though, it’s the enabler. It’s easy to over focus on the technology to the detriment of the people and the processes (as well as existing investments and projects already occurring) can lead to a negative impact for a digital transformation initiative, Zukowski said.
“We have limited people. We have an aging workforce. We want to maximize the intelligence and the people capital. We have to go do the work where the work needs to be done. So minimizing the amount of unnecessary or menial work that people have to do lets them focus on the more important things.”
To listen to and watch all the sessions from the 2022 Federal News Network DoD Cloud Exchange, go to the event page.