As momentum continues to build for agencies to implement strategies and technologies to modernize their IT environments, agency managers will have to be careful to avoid missteps that could hamper successful digital transformation.

As Federal agencies move into the digital era, they are looking for innovative ways to acquire emerging technologies and services. They also need to get their workforce onboard with organizational changes, and make sure their agencies have the right industry partners to make this transition a success.

“If you pool the strategic plans of every Federal agency, you are going to see a consistent theme,” said Shawn Kingsberry, vice president of global digital government and citizen services at Unisys, which commissioned several studies on government purchasing habits throughout 2017.

All agency managers are trying to find ways to lower costs, decrease risks, support the digital worker, and become more secure, Kingsberry noted.

What is causing many agency CIOs from not reaching their objectives? For the most part, the government is still mired in an “in-source” approach when it comes to managing its IT infrastructures. That means either the government is leading and driving the management of IT, or a series of contractors are managing the IT environments for government. Moreover, agencies still struggle to move away from siloed, dated technology that was not developed to be integrated with modern IT systems.

Federal managers should be looking at more innovative ways to acquire technology and services, empower their workforce, and choose the right partners to help move toward digital transformation, Kingsberry, a former CIO of The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, noted.

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  1. Do not get mired in contracts and acquisitions approaches that keep you behind the technology curve, not ahead of it. 

    The contracting approach is critical to being able to adjust to the pitfalls that hamper agencies from modernizing. Change is happening so rapidly that it’s hard for managers to keep up. To drive transformation, agencies should connect their contracting approach with their strategic goals and objectives. In the Federal government–and even state and local governments–it has been a challenge for agencies to get what they need in a timely manner, Kingsberry noted. Agencies need to move into a shared services approach at the contracting level, where the technology and services are outsourced with a contractor who can be held accountable, and thus become a shared partner in outcomes.

  2. Don’t neglect the needs of people. 

    Organizational Change Management is critical to success. Technology is the easy part. Getting people to understand and align the needs of customers with the needs of the citizens, and to communicate throughout this transition journey is important. “The hard part is getting people to change behavior and build up their trust during change,” Kingsberry said. “Lot of times we forget that. We focus on the technology, and those projects fail because the requirements of the people using the technology was not considered.

  3. Don’t pick a partner who is not up to the challenge. 

    Choosing the right partner is imperative. Not just any integrator can step in and conduct Federal IT modernization work. Data center migration is different from agency-wide transformation. It is more than just moving servers from one data center to another. The integrator must know about multiple disciplines such as architecture, cloud infrastructure services that include private and public clouds, the data classification requirements of the specific Federal systems they are upgrading, and application services.That is the only way that appropriate security controls can be put into place. For example, a financial system within government could be connected to 15 servers and databases that would then need to be moved altogether into the cloud. Or, maybe applications will require reprogramming to work efficiently in the new environment, Kingsberry suggested. The transition team must understand how all these pieces come together, and the pace they need to go to implement change, because not all agencies are the same.

The digital world has turned the whole approach to implementing technology on its head, Kingsberry said. No longer can agency IT managers think of systems as being their own little fiefdoms. They are the citizens’ systems now, and this is the digital world’s moment of truth.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.