Keeping in touch with the office at SBA during a pandemic

The expansion of tasks thrust on the Small Business Administration meant it had to add new systems and staff with everyone teleworking.

Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

The expansion of people and task thrust on the Small Business Administration in the pandemic response has been well documented. It had to add systems and staff, and design new programs with everyone teleworking. I was curious about how people communicated among themselves and with industry while all of this was building up. So Federal Drive with Tom Temin asked the SBA’s chief technology officer, Sanjay Gupta.

Interview transcript:

Sanjay Gupta: Yeah, good question. And I think this has been one of the most enlightening times as well. So one thing that let me just sort of raise the discussion up a little higher, is that I’ve kind of go across both private and public sectors. I think, amongst one thing that’s been proven consistently across all private and public sector organizations is IT plays a critical or more specifically a vital role in any organization’s ability to meet/achieve its mission. And that’s one of the things that has come out in the last six months through the global pandemic, regardless of which organization you’re talking about, that IT has been a critical component. So the stature of IT and the value of it has become more prominent. Let me just sort of kind of go from there from your question standpoint, because we are relying on technology, even our conversation you and I are having today relies on multiple pieces of technology behind the scenes, is what enabled people to continue to deliver to their mission, it enabled people to collaborate, enabled people to be assured that their information is secured. Because ultimately, those components are needed to be able to deliver to the mission, each of us needs to perform our job, our responsibilities and our functions. But we also need to be able to do it in a manner which is, from a performance standpoint, easy enough. It’s not something that you’re doing in a difficult manner. And two you also need the assurance that it’s being done in a secure manner correct. So all of those factors, I think came to play. From our standpoint, obviously, few things would be implemented from a cybersecurity standpoint a couple years ago, which was essentially a cloud based cybersecurity model which allowed us visibility to all our key assets in the SBA regardless of their on premise, regardless if they were in some cloud, or regardless if their mobile, we already had those capabilities implemented a couple years ago. For us in that sense this transition was not so significant from that standpoint, because we already had that capabilities in place. And so we had to do only a few tweaks to ensure that we have continued to maintain the cybersecurity posture, not only for the SBA, but for all of our constituents who work with us and our citizens and small businesses.

Tom Temin: But beyond the technical level, you had to discuss things with people and do planning and draw things on napkins and whiteboards for how this is all going to work. And again, the interaction I want to ask about with, say the program, people that were charged with actually carrying out the missions. And so how did that work, what was it like? What were your processes for communication with one another, and with contractors above the technology level?

Sanjay Gupta: Correct. I think one thing that I found is lot of the staffers adopted new technology very quickly. And I’m saying this with full candor because in the past, before the pandemic, we’ve deployed new technologies and usually the adoption rate is whatever it is. But during the last six months, we deployed new tools and solutions, but we found that the adoption rate was much at a much accelerated rate. And I think part of the factor is because each of us was, if you will, motivated to adopt it, because it helped us do our jobs better. So I think that’s the basis for that. But to your point about how did we interact with the program officers and the business folks, simply put, these tools are what helped us keep the lifeline or the bloodline continuing to be operated. Some of the tools that we deployed allowed us to have near in real person sort of interactions. And I think I’ll just give another example. We have used multiple channels of communications. At one point in time, I recall myself personally, in probably late March, April timeframe, I used to be having communications and dialogues going across 6, 7, 8 different channels. And let me sort of give you just a quick enumeration of that. So, my phone, so the phone is three different sort of channels, email, phone as a phone and chat through text messaging. So I would have those communications going on, then we had other instant messaging and collaboration tools that were deployed internally. And since we were working with a lot of our partners, we were using their collaboration tools, or theit chat capabilities, in addition to all of your basic email and everything. So at given point in time, I personally was having dialogues going across 7, 8, 9 different channels of different communication. So I think one thing to say is I felt our staff did the same. They were not limited to saying okay, well, you sent me an email I’ll send you back an email. So they were doing chats using our chat capabilities. And they were interacting using other collaboration tools and innovation to the sort of the standard good old phone call or video calls, all of the above. So I think one of the things I found is the adaptability. People were adapting to these new tools and technologies, and they were very quickly using them.

Tom Temin: Yeah. So there was almost a mind bending ability to inculcate all of these things, because it’s almost like juggling, you’re on several channels simultaneously. This wasn’t just, today I’ll use this one tomorrow that one. What’s your sense of how people are doing with that? Do you check in with the users from a usability standpoint and say, are we making you crazy or is this helping your work? Do you have ways of measuring that or at least taking the pulse of it?

Sanjay Gupta: Yeah, I think it’s a mixed bag. In full candor again, I think, so we did have training programs available and we held those training programs. Some people avail them some didn’t. And yes, I do and we do do a sort of reach out and check on that. As you can imagine with any situation, there’s a some of the early adopters, some sort of mid adopters, some late adopters. We’ll have always that mixed bag of user base, if you will, that’s okay. That’s how it is, nothing right or wrong about it. And then so what I found also here is, one intriguing thing I found is, some of the virtual collaboration tools, people were helping amongst themselves, peer to peer help, not the traditional go to IT and ask them for help, because it’s an IT tool we’re using. I found an increased reliance on peer to peer help through some of the platforms that we had deployed. And that was very encouraging. Because somebody who posed a question, let’s say, and somebody said, oh, I’m having the same issue, let me know when you find a solution. Then somebody would say, oh, I knew of this problem happened to her, maybe she can fix this problem for you or tell you how she fixed it. So it was almost unimaginable how well people started adopting these these tools and these informal networks were created. And people started relying on each other, if you will, peer to peer networks for being able to help each other out, recognizing that, yeah, can you go to IT and have them respond to it? Yes, yes we will. But there may not be the sort of the time delay may occur. And so it was just very nice to see and very encouraging to see that there was a lot of peer to peer help going on. And then we deployed some tools, which some people were very comfortable using. So for example, one of the aspects was reached out to the citizens. And so there were many events that our Office of Field Operations would hold. And so we deployed solutions that could host up to 10,000 people or event, and that allowed people to do reach out and have interaction and have communications go out.

Tom Temin: Question on the 10,000 style participation — was it just one way like a broadcast or could people send in questions?

Sanjay Gupta: Yeah, it was more of a broadcast. So from an audio standpoint that did not allow audio questions, but you had the ability if you wanted to open chat for questions on a limited basis, you could do that. But it was more of a, you’re right, it’s more of a broadcast because when you have a 10,000 potential audience, then it’s difficult to have an interactive audience and the audio one would have almost been unimaginable. But in this case, there was a lot of information they were trying to push out about the programs like PPP program or other program. And so so this was more of a broadcast correct.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories