Insight by Box

Agencies must build on pandemic’s digital transformation lessons

Without a doubt, the ability of agencies to almost turn on a dime to upgrade their technology to deal with the surge in teleworking when the pandemic hit last spring has been one of the few silver linings for the federal sector.

Agencies adapted new models of working, in some cases switched on the digital modernization accelerator to ensure citizens and businesses received services and upgraded long-time network shortcomings with industry partners.

But now with the pandemic likely not to subside anytime soon, Sonny Hashmi, the managing director of global government at Box, said it’s time for agencies to think about what the future of work can and should look like.

“What we’ve noticed is the strategies that have to be invented or reimagined in a pretty quick have turned out fashion have turned out to be pretty effective. Work productivity has stayed steady, and generally speaking employees are productive and agency missions are being fulfilled,” Hashmi said on Federal Insights. “The biggest challenge is now agencies have to rethink processes that required a lot of physical, in-person transactions. Those processes are now getting in the way of full digital analog of these processes. Agencies have to rethink the systems and the business processes associated with those systems in a new way so that citizens can get the same level of service in a digital first way.”

Hashmi said no matter when federal employees return to the office, the fact is citizens, businesses and agencies themselves started to see what the digital future is and could be.

Agencies, like the Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration, the IRS and many others, either accelerated current efforts or received funding from Congress to address immediate infrastructure needs so the mission could go on.

Hashmi said now agency chief information officers can take a step back and see what worked, what didn’t and why, and then apply those lessons learned to their ongoing digitization efforts.

“Just because employees are able to connect into emails and calendar, doesn’t mean that the challenge is over. If you forecast that similar challenges will continue to present themselves over the next 6, 12 or 18 months, this is not something that is not just going to go away in the near future,” he said. “Observe what is not working for employees, where they are frustrated in terms of processes that have broken down, where they can’t access their records, where citizens can’t engage effectively and get the services they need or where systems are failing. This is a great time to do so. These lessons are valuable right now and should drive the IT strategy over the next 12-to-18 months.”

He said agencies should create action plans that takes advantage of the technology maturation that has occurred over the last 3-to-5 years between the cloud and the ability to deploy applications in hours not days or weeks.

“My recommendation is to create six-month plans and execute against those plans, show value and move onto the next six month phase,” Hashmi said. “We actually are seeing that happen in organization like the District of Columbia which migrated their child support payment processing to a digital only format in a matter of only two months.”

A key part of these short-term modernization strategies is ensuring agencies are measuring performance management and not overlooking the importance of collaboration across the mission and technology offices and with users.

“You have to make sure you are setting the right expectations with citizens and also provide them with analogs to the traditional ways of working. I still see some agencies, especially at the state and local level, where they expect people to fill out a form and mail it in,” he said. “It’s necessary to think about your business processes with a digital-first mentality moving forward.”

He said typically agencies find moving off of the status quo difficult, but the pandemic has made that a luxury no more.

“You have to figure out ways to get to ‘yes.’ It may require rethinking policies or revisiting decisions that were reached many years ago and trying new things,” Hashmi said. “There are things that cannot be negotiated like security, compliance with federal regulations and privacy is maintained. But within that playing ground, everything else should be on the table.”

The Remote Work Culture

The biggest challenge we’ve heard is now agencies have to rethink processes that required a lot of physical, in-person transactions. Those processes are now getting in the way of full digital analog of these processes. Agencies have to rethink the systems and the business processes associated with those systems in a new way so that citizens can get the same level of service in a digital first way.

Customer Services in a Virtual Environment

You have to figure out ways to get to ‘yes.’ It may require rethinking policies or revisiting decisions that were reached many years ago and trying new things.

Listen to the full show:

Featured speakers

  • Sonny Hashmi

    Managing Director, Global Government, Box

  • Jason Miller

    Executive Editor, Federal News Network

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