Gary Newgaard, Vice President of Public Sector for Pure Storage, has been around Big IT for a while, and has seen a lot.  We won’t get into ages, but anyone who logged time at Compaq in 1990 has experienced – if not the infancy of IT – at least its childhood years and on up to the present through a string of senior posts at Pure, Oracle, PIXIA, and EMC.

We caught up with Gary last week for an interview in the midst of juggling several different kinds of video conference calls that have quickly become the regular drill for communications during the coronavirus pandemic.  Among other things, he reminded us that while the challenges are always changing, the need to contribute to support the mission is not.

MeriTalk:  In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, what do you think the Federal government can do right now on the tech front to better sustain the capabilities of its workforce and delivery of service to citizens?

Newgaard: I think they are already doing it.  Most agencies – certainly not all – have prepared for the volume of work from home that we are all facing. I think those of us in the IT world, we’re pretty accustomed to work from anywhere. But if you are used to going into an office environment, first you have to get set up to access your VPN and secure access into the systems that keep the government functioning. I think the government has done a marvelous job of that, there are countless examples.

Gary Newgaard, Vice President of Public Sector for Pure Storage

My hat is off to everybody in the Federal government and in state and local governments as well because these are unprecedented times. The ability to react quickly is absolutely amazing.

The interesting thing that we are seeing in both the Federal and state and local government market is that some of the collaboration tools that you may need to get a procurement on track have been briefly disrupted – but the wheels of commerce in the public sector are rolling.

You could have an emergency order for IT equipment and you may not be able to receive it because some of those loading docks are not being staffed, and they weren’t set up for this kind of pandemic, just like any of us.

MeriTalk: So you can order those thousand laptops, but you’re maybe not going to get them in a timely way?

Newgaard: Yes, they may be in transit, or you may have seen a need for what your storage capabilities are that impacts getting new equipment deployed, that’s somewhat challenging in all of government.

On the other hand, there are certain areas where the missions are 24 by 7, so they may have red teams and blue teams come in and work a shift, or work a week and then the new crew comes in after they sanitize the workplace.  The missions haven’t changed and the challenges haven’t changed, it’s how we go about meeting those challenges. I compliment both industry and government for being able to adapt so quickly.

MeriTalk:  Let’s envision the situation further out in time, perhaps six months from now when and if the crisis abates and we get closer to normalcy. Is there anything that you think Federal leadership and agencies need to be doing over the next six months to get ready for that recovery to happen?

Newgaard:  Yes, a couple of things.  First of all, we are all experiencing lessons in continuity of operations, and how we can help our customers. It is simply by being responsive to their needs, and our ability to accommodate some of these emergency needs in a very timely manner.

We’re going to go through the crisis, and then there are going to be lessons learned. The most important thing out of all this is to debrief and make sure that we all understand what we handled well and where we could have done better, and could do better on the next go-round.

The second piece relates to the economy. There’s no single bigger spender in the world than the government – if you add it all up there’s nobody that has that kind of buying power. I think we’re all fortunate in that a lot of that buying power can be either mandated by regulations or law to help small businesses get back on track.

If you look at how the federal government is funded, typically we see people go toward the third quarter, the September-August timeframe, and they have the ability to pull forward some of those acquisitions that will actually have a material impact on the economy and get dollars back out into the U.S. economy.

MeriTalk: Whenever we get back to normal, do you foresee any lasting changes in how governments work and people interact with them?

Newgaard: If you look at state and local governments, typically they have requirements to convene a board for a public hearing on a given issue, and then they will issue recommendations. Those are mandated by law and they have to be conducted in person. But in a shelter-at-home environment, you’re not going to be able to have in-person meetings. So we’re seeing people change the rules now and allow virtual meetings to be held so that people can conduct business. Nobody thought of that too much before now.

MeriTalk: So if those new arrangements turned out to be good and efficient, we might never want to change them back, because they have turned out to be more efficient?

Newgaard: You’re absolutely right. Because this may be the first time we face this, but it also may not be the last.

MeriTalk: What can Pure Storage do right now and over the next several months to help the government make it through the pandemic?

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Newgaard:  We’re not going to change what we do for the government. Because what we do day in and day out, no matter who the government customer is, is figure out ways to enable and support a mission.

Everybody’s got a mission – whether that’s protecting our borders or keeping the airlines safe – and is working on a remedy. We just have to be there to support the customers. We have the supply chain to support emergency acquisitions if necessary.

We would normally try to get a customer into an executive briefing in Mountain View (Pure’s California headquarters) or in our office here in Washington. We can’t do that right now, but we’ve been doing remote executive briefings almost every day because the customer is saying ‘here is what I’m facing, what solutions can you bring to bear to assist me in solving my problems.’ And it’s not always about Pure, we help customers figure out how to use other tools.

MeriTalk:  Any final thoughts?

Newgaard: We have a very resilient group of people here in the U.S.  That’s the most encouraging part as we look out over the horizon, we have a long history of resiliency, creativity, and the ability to persevere through a problem and pull together.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.