The process of federal IT modernization should focus as much on changing employee mindsets as it does on updating technology, easing people into change bit by bit rather than overwhelming them with the new, said federal officials speaking at the GITEC Summit 2018 in Annapolis, Md., this week.
“Pick a couple of projects — high visibility, but medium- to low-risk. We just have to jump in and get started. It’s never going to be a good time,” said Adrian Gardner, CIO at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
From procurement and acquisition to adopting ultra-modern technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, experimenting with the new may become a regular part of the modernization program, federal IT officials said.
The American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council, with the General Services Administration, developed a blockchain playbook that includes a quiz for agencies that want to see if the distributed ledger system would work for them. Some have already figured out that blockchain is not the right solution, saving themselves time and effort, said Andrew Vanjani, acting director of the GSA’s Integrated Award Environment.
Other agencies are encouraging small pilot projects on automation, trying to make the concept less frightening for workers who think it might take away their jobs.
“I paint it as a bionic arm for your team; it does the capabilities that you don’t want to,” said Brian Thomas, an agency data scientist at NASA. “The point is not to do Star Trek-y fun stuff, although I like that — it’s to be more efficient in the meeting room.”
GSA, OMB Encourage Agencies to Shop Wisely
Acquisition and procurement experts in particular have decades of habit and regulation to overcome to keep government technology updated in a timely manner. The GSA has a number of contract vehicles that allow agencies to get new equipment faster.
Both the GSA and the Office of Management and Budget are also working to streamline the process to getting authorization to operate declarations, and to eliminate some of the duplication that happens when agencies use the same technology but require separate ATOs.
In addition, they’re trying to encourage agencies to plan very carefully before shopping for new equipment to save both time and money.
“Only procure what it is you need to actually do the job. Don’t buy a Cadillac when something of a lesser capability will do,” said Jimmy Scott, deputy chief procurement officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “From an acquisition standpoint, everything has a cost.”
Agencies Should Change Culture, Focus on Simplicity
No matter the project, however, agencies should be clear on what problem they’re trying to solve and how they can do it in the simplest manner possible.
Jonathan Mostowski, acquisition strategist at the U.S. Digital Service, said he once worked on a $500 million proposal where the agency thought it would need as many as 400 people to pull it off. He told them to give him $1 million, and he’d get a much smaller starter team together in six months.
“We got a vendor in a matter of weeks,” he said. “The lesson we’ve learned in Digital Services is that making a small change is the way you make big change. Our job is culture change, and you have to demonstrate what you can do to build confidence among the agencies.”
For our all of our articles from the conference, check out FedTech’s coverage of the GITEC Summit 2018 here.