Jan 29 2019

How Federal IT Leaders Can Adapt to Accelerating Tech Change

Agencies are speeding up IT modernization efforts, but there are large gaps in aligning their tech priorities with mission objectives, according to a survey.

New federal IT modernization efforts are underway, with the Office of Management and Budget recently proposing changes to update the Trusted Internet Connections program and the government’s data center optimization initiative

Yet according to the Accenture Federal Services “State of Federal IT 2018” survey, technology modernization efforts are occurring, but perhaps not at a fast enough pace

The survey fielded to 200 federal IT decision-makers in November and December 2017. All were employed by the federal government, with respondents split evenly between Defense-related and non-Defense-related agencies. All were involved in their agency’s decisions and/or recommendations regarding IT management and operations.

Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents described the change in technology’s role in their personal lives over the past five years as either “significant” or “transformative.” 

However, fewer executives described changes in their overall IT strategy (50 percent), IT organizational structure (48 percent) and IT infrastructure (51 percent) as equally significant or transformative. Meanwhile, the reported changes in their agency’s mission and business operations or IT operating model (42 and 44 percent, respectively) trailed even further. 

“The velocity of the transformation in government is not as forward-moving as perhaps everyone would want it to be,” says Dave McClure, the principal director of Accenture Federal Services, who leads its CIO leadership agenda. “For it to be at a higher velocity requires federal CIOs to adapt to a different model. They need to be acting and performing as business leaders, not just IT leaders. That is a big piece of the puzzle, as to why things may not be going as fast.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out how to effectively migrate your agency’s data to the cloud. 

How Feds Can Overcome Hurdles to Digital Transformation

There are several reasons why IT modernization efforts might not be as far along as many would like, according to McClure. A primary one is being content with the status quo compared to reworking entire IT environments. “CIOs tend to act in this trusted provider-enabler position as opposed to dynamic rethinking,” and are often not focused on making large-scale changes, he says. 

Additionally, many CIOs are simply overwhelmed by traditional IT issues such as infrastructure support — “keeping the railroad running, maintaining very sensitive legacy systems that are running critical business processes.” 


Another reason is that agency leaders, CFOs and those who run agency programs need to believe in and understand the upsides of moving to modern, digital architectures, and “how that is going to help them deliver their programs and services in a very cost-effective and efficient and effective way,” McClure says. 

Federal CIOs need to communicate more effectively with other agency leaders about how technology can help enhance agency missions, he adds. 

To further this disconnect, 70 percent of survey respondents described their IT function as “trusted utility” or “mission enabler,” and just 7 percent described their role as that of a “change agent.” Only 47 percept of IT decision-makers believe they’re effectively contributing to mission agility, and even fewer (39 percent) say they are able to transform mission and business requirements into compelling business cases for new IT investment. Meanwhile, almost three-fourths of federal IT decision-makers say they are still playing a supporting role within their agency.

Agency CIOs have power, control and a seat at the table thanks to the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, McClure says. However, they cannot achieve transformation on their own. “There has to be an active collaboration between mission ownership and what IT is doing to improve processes, deliver services and empowering a new, modern workforce to be more efficient,” he says. 

To help agencies accelerate digital transformation, the report outlines three key principles that are critical to IT modernization:

  • IT leaders become business leaders. “The relationship between technology and mission outcomes has never been stronger,” the report says. “Therefore, IT leaders must use their unique understanding of technology’s potential and its limitations, to help their agencies envision the art of the possible and seize opportunities to improve their capabilities.”
  • Embrace new objectives. “With technology so deeply embedded in the enterprise fabric, new partnerships and collaborations are needed,” the report adds. “For IT, this means shifting to shared vision and objectives with a greater focus on impact and outcomes. One way to accelerate this transition is by forward deployment of IT talent directly into the mission, business, and operations work groups.” 
  • Prepare for constant change. “Continuous reinvention is a hallmark of the digital era. To succeed, IT leaders need to champion a platform vison that virtually eliminates the threshold to change,” the report notes. “This requires ‘liquid’ environments, a liquid workforce, liquid data and liquid applications that move in concert to quickly meet new and emerging requirements.
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