Most federal agencies are being hit by three massive changes. First, agencies are experiencing significant reductions in both capital and operating budgets. Second, agency missions have increased in volume and complexity. Finally, information technology and the applications that agencies use to complete these missions continue to evolve at a dizzying pace.
Any one of these changes would present fundamental challenges to standard operations. The simultaneous convergence of all three is causing significant disruptions, as well as game-changing opportunities. To take advantage of these opportunities, however, agencies will have to modify their traditional approaches to technology and how it is acquired and financed.
A prime example of this is the way federal agencies have typically approached technology acquisition and deployment. Over the years, agencies have developed well-established acquisition and deployment processes for their technology solutions. But over time, the objective of these processes has been lost. New technology solutions are acquired and deployed simply to contain near-term costs while avoiding any current-year major outages or disruptions. As a result, agencies have become very cautious and risk averse with the solutions and services they select and how they are financed.
Unfortunately, this risk-averse approach has led to rigid technology and acquisition models that are driven by sunk costs and constrained by past decisions. The more entrenched these models become, the more difficult and costly it is for an agency to keep pace with emerging and future technology requirements.
Consequently, many systems and services are antiquated and unable to meet current mission requirements, forcing mission leaders to select from an increasingly large number of unacceptable trade-offs. For instance, they must choose between providing the capacity for mission success or staying within budget; they must choose between risking potentially devastating cyberattacks or maintaining the current security profile and platforms; or they must commit to either ensuring that their legacy systems are simply functioning or deploy new systems that have the capacity and flexibility to satisfy future requirements.
Acquiring and deploying more automated and virtualized technology solutions —as well as seeking out high-end consulting services — can eliminate these nasty trade-offs. These solutions will also allow agencies to design and deploy the next generation of systems and services while staying within both near- and long-term budget constraints.
The content and services required by citizens, warfighters, national security analysts, health care specialists and others are significantly and rapidly evolving, and federal-agency mission, IT and procurement leaders must evolve with them. Just as corporations in the private marketplace can remain competitive only by quickly adapting to changes to the content and services demanded by their customers, federal agencies must react with speed and innovation.
Potential steps to encourage innovation in the acquisition and deployment of the next generation of solutions and services include:
- Identify current, emerging, and future mission infrastructure and security requirements, especially gaps in government-certified or commercially available capabilities.
- Enable technology vendors, systems integrators and service providers to offer agencies the most innovative yet reliable technology solutions and services.
- Construct flexible acquisition strategies — and build investment protection and upgrades into those strategies — to reduce near- and long-term costs.
If federal agencies replace or upgrade legacy systems and services with more innovative alternatives, they will find they have the budget, infrastructure and expertise for mission success. Agencies must also replace regimented and constrained IT, acquisition and financing models with more flexible and agile models. These new models accelerate time from selection to deployment, avoid cost spikes, and reduce both near- and long-term CAPEX and OPEX costs.