Many agencies are actively undertaking IT modernization efforts. Some are further along than others, but the message from Federal CIO Suzette Kent is clear: it is imperative for agencies to modernize to improve citizen services.
The Agriculture Department is the lead agency for the General Services Administration’s Centers of Excellence initiative, and updating IT related to customer service is a key focus at USDA. Other agencies are plowing ahead with migrations to Microsoft’s Windows 10 to enhance security. And several are working with the U.S. Digital Service to modernize processes, adopt new software and take novel approaches to technology challenges.
Government agencies looking to modernize must formulate a strategy to do so effectively. This means not merely making large investments in new technologies, but also thoroughly assessing the current state of IT operations and setting goals for where the agency wants to go. Here are five steps for federal IT leaders to follow as they strive to modernize their technology systems.
1. Assess the State of IT at Your Agency
The first step of an IT modernization plan is to identify the systems, processes and job categories that need to be modernized. This should include a careful inventory of IT systems to determine what needs to be replaced. During the assessment, IT staff should consider how much the agency is spending and how long vendors will maintain support for specific products.
Next, IT leaders and agency executives should identify the goals of the modernization effort. The more clearly agency leaders can spell out where they want to get to, the more effectively they can plan on how to get there.
2. Consider Upgrading the Network or IT Management Platform
A modernization effort represents an opportunity to find new IT partners as well as to update processes.
A network upgrade is frequently a useful target for modernization, as the network powers everything else in an agency’s IT environment. Replacing older switches and routers with new hardware can provide support for the modernization of other technologies. In addition to improving bandwidth, security and efficiency, these upgrades will make every other step of IT modernization easier, as they will ensure that the network doesn’t serve as a choke point that hampers productivity and limits the adoption of new applications.
Another valuable option is to deploy a unifying digital platform for centralized management of IT infrastructure. This centralized platform — or “single pane of glass” — allows agencies to view and manage data from throughout their organization. By collecting and integrating data from multiple types of sensors and applications, agencies can arrive at insights that help them to improve operational effectiveness, customize and expand systems, and inform the development of new apps.
3. Evaluate Both Public and Private Cloud Options
Public cloud providers give agencies the flexibility to rapidly scale resources up or down without major capital outlays. Private clouds offer the same benefits around flexibility and automation, but with the added benefit of on-premises control. Agencies embarking on IT modernization plans should carefully consider both approaches, and may choose to combine them into a hybrid cloud or multicloud strategy.
With the public cloud, agencies can modernize their IT systems without needing to “rip and replace” existing on-premises systems. And in many cases, they can replicate and even enhance the functionality of legacy systems by subscribing to a cloud-based, Software as a Service version of the same service.
Although cost reduction has historically been a major motivator for organizations looking to push resources to the public cloud, agencies should take a careful look at their specific use cases and cost models. Often, organizations have found that private clouds are more economical for predictable, ongoing workloads. Also, private clouds are an especially good fit for agencies that must follow rigid guidelines about where and how data is managed and stored.
The Federal Risk Authorization and Management Program helps agencies to ensure that their cloud deployments meet federal requirements.
Migration is often a challenge for many agencies in moving to the cloud. Third-party IT partners can often provide valuable expertise in helping agencies identify the best path to the cloud and walk them carefully through the process.
4. Always Remember to Focus on Security
As they implement their IT modernization plans, agencies must ensure that both new and old systems are as secure as possible. A robust array of security tools will often include advanced malware detection, email security, web security, policy and access management, next-generation firewalls, network analytics and other solutions.
Together, these security technologies can increase visibility across an agency’s entire network. As a result, agencies will be able to block malware before it enters their networks, detect malicious code hiding in encrypted data and analyze data to better understand threats and improve future defenses.
5. Find Help for IT Modernization from a Trusted Partner
A trusted third party can also provide valuable assistance for agencies looking to modernize their systems. A partner may offer the expertise and perspective to perform an initial assessment, helping to provide agency leaders with an honest look at the state of various IT elements, such as cloud readiness and the status of the network. Third parties also offer managed services, such as network connectivity, colocation for backup and IT hosting; and managed cloud services, including Infrastructure, Desktop and Contact Center as a Service. Handing these IT chores off to a partner reduces the burden on in-house IT staff and allows them to focus on the agency’s mission.
A modernization of mobile IT tools can benefit greatly from third-party services. A partner will work with IT staff and mobile carriers to ensure the agency’s enterprise mobile devices are automatically activated, enrolled and ready to use right out of the box. These services can include software configuration and imaging for a variety of devices, including smartphones and tablets, as well as tagging, tracking and laser etching to streamline asset management.
Many agencies are opting for Device as a Service offerings from partners. Through a DaaS program, users receive fully supported, customized devices. Because the agency pays for the devices through a monthly subscription fee, it can shift procurement costs to an operating expense. The device provider manages technology refreshes, secures devices, operates management software, provides help desk services and recycles devices.
Once a modernization program is underway, adoption and training services may smooth the transition. Even the most aggressive investments in new technologies won’t do agencies much good if they’re not being used. Most organizations can point to at least one or two end-user tools from over the years that simply haven’t gained traction with users inside the agency.
Trusted service providers can help spur adoption and train users, ensuring that agencies recoup their IT modernization investments. To take one example, some end users find video collaboration tools intimidating and, if left on their own, may never go through the simple steps of setting up an account and learning how to initiate video chats or meetings. After a short, focused training session, however, users often see the value of these systems and begin integrating them into their normal workflows.
To learn how federal agencies can address their IT modernization challenges, read the CDW white paper “How IT Modernization Improves Government.”