As IT modernization has become essential for Federal agencies to meet their mission needs, agency leaders described digital modernization plans and shared some insight on how to modernize effectively and efficiently.

“It’s really exciting times in the Army because we are really embarking on a massive digital modernization effort, and I specifically use the word digital modernization and not IT modernization, because it’s all about changing culture in the Army,” Raj Iyer, chief information officer (CIO) at the U.S. Army said during a Federal News Network webinar. “For us, digital modernization is more about how we leverage the data as the ammunition of our future fight.”

Moving forward, Iyer said the Army expects to fight in what he calls a “multi-domain,” including land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. Modernizing the agency’s data is critical to fighting in all five domains to out-compete its adversaries, according to Iyer.

As for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Acting CIO Dominic Cussatt said his agency has focused on five areas for its digital transformation: customer service to vets, IT modernization through updated software and infrastructure, strategic sourcing, investing in its IT workforce, and achieving seamless and secure interoperability.

“The digital transformation is very important to us because we are so sprawling and large, we need to get to as many veterans as we can,” Cussatt said. “You really got to rely on IT in a digital transformation to reach as many of those as you can and have it as a force multiplier.”

Cussatt said VA has made progress in its digital modernization over the past couple of years, including upgrades to its bandwidth and telecommunications, which helped the agency tremendously during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heidi Myers, deputy CIO at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also emphasized how her agency’s IT modernization efforts helped support its employees during the pandemic. Myers said her agency’s move to full-time telework would not have been possible without modernization.

“Our IT modernization efforts helped us support that urgent need in just a few days, whereas in the past it might have taken weeks or months,” Myers said. “We took a look at connectivity and partnering with DHS, we made sure that everyone had reliable connectivity. We also implemented some alternative connectivity means for certain mission-specific needs. We also of course focused on collaboration and communication.”

Digital modernization has helped agencies to succeed during the pandemic and agency leaders agreed a continuous digital modernization is necessary to succeed in the future.

“We can never be in this state where we modernize every 20 years and then say we’re done,” Iyer said. “When given how fast technology is changing, what we’re building into our culture and into our programs as we acquire them is how we can be in persistent modernization, so we’re continuously bringing in new technologies.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.