Insight by Booz Allen Hamilton

Agencies aim to optimize growing IT investments

Agencies have already increased their spending on digital technologies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed them to invest in teleworking capabilities and make more citizen-facing services available online. Those trends continue, while work ramps up to tackle other major issues ranging from aging infrastructure to climate change.

“Technology as an enabler is becoming even more important than it ever was,” Andrew Larson, a senior vice president in the civil sector for Booz Allen Hamilton, said on Federal News Network. “But I think if you reel it back a level and look at what the real challenges are, I think it’s one of cost optimization, and increasing the return on investment.”

The Biden administration is seeking a 13% increase in federal IT spending in fiscal 2024. The budget includes more than $510 million to strengthen activities focused on modernizing programs, reducing administrative burdens, and piloting new online tools and technologies,” according to the Office of Management and Budget.

But demands on agencies can often outstrip their technology budgets.

“When you have to do more with the same, you have to be much smarter about your investments,” Larson said.

Agencies are also increasingly focused on adopting “enterprise approaches” to their technology investments, he added, by looking at duplicative investments or legacy costs that should be phased out. Larson pointed out that the government typically spends about 80% of its budget on operations and maintenance, with the remaining 20% reserved for modernization.

“By stepping back and looking at things holistically, you start to see where you’re paying twice for the same thing. Or maybe you’re not investing as wisely as you could in the right platform or tool sets,” he said.

For example, agencies are increasing their investments in enterprise cybersecurity programs and tooling under the May 2021 cybersecurity executive order and the subsequent January 2022 federal zero trust strategy.

Larson said one place where agencies can make progress is by taking better advantage of data being pulled off cybersecurity logs and other sensors. That’s an area the Government Accountability Office found was a weakness in the federal response to the SolarWinds and Microsoft Exchange incidents.

Many agencies often lack the programs and tools to use the data. And moving to aggregate and analyze logs can be hindered by the “federated nature” of larger organizations, like many agencies, Larson said.

“There’s tremendous value in that data, and if you can take that data, and aggregate it, normalize it, and then have it in the same place where you can start to analyze it, you can apply advanced analytics against it, then you get to developing insights, you get proactive, as opposed to being reactive,” he said.

Meanwhile, agencies also continue to adopt cloud services and modern software practices. Larson said that opens the door to more reusable services across an agency.

“With more componentized, cloud-native architectures, open architectures, open source, you’re really able to drive toward increased agility because you’re taking monoliths and breaking them down into components and deploying them in a way that they’re reusable,” Larson said. “So when they’re reusable services, that’s the very definition of de-siloeing. The core piece of functionality that you’re delivering can be built and developed once, and used many places across the enterprise.”

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Featured speakers

  • Andrew Larson

    Senior Vice President, Civil Sector, Booz Allen Hamilton

  • Justin Doubleday

    Reporter, Federal News Network