At first glance, the 2020 decennial census looks like a technology problem: It’s based on data collection and analysis, combined with a little cybersecurity and a dash of device management.
But this massive government job, the biggest regularly scheduled project done by federal workers, is far more than a numbers game. When CDW•G bid on the project, we looked at the 2020 census as a logistical issue. The massive task was going all-digital for the first time in its 230-year history, and we knew we needed to make the project run smoothly for the U.S. Census Bureau.
We had to move hundreds of thousands of iPhone devices and laptops around the country in a short period of time; we had to make sure those devices were properly configured before they arrived in the hands of the mostly temporary workers; and we had to retrieve the devices and wipe them clean of information once the count was done.
We were confident that this Device as a Service program would help census workers efficiently count the more than 330 million people living in the U.S. What we didn’t know was that it would help the Census Bureau complete its mission amid a host of national catastrophes, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the beginning, we told a story of logistics rather than connectivity. You’ve got to have devices in people’s hands when it’s time for them to start a project — it doesn’t matter if the technology works if it’s not available for them to use.
EXPLORE: How configuration specialists can make your projects more manageable.
Knowing the Agency’s Mission Is Key to Success
What we need to do for any project, big or small, is understand the customer’s mission. Our job is to eliminate any issues distracting the customer from achieving its mission, and technology allows us to do that.
Here’s an example: Months prior to shipping the devices to the Census Bureau, we knew we could ship 100,000 devices in two days, but we couldn’t configure them that quickly.
So we began the configuration process earlier to test our capacity and determine how many we had to do daily to hit our deadline. If we didn’t do that number, the job would get bigger. If the number was 10, and we hit only nine, the next day the number would be 11. There was no room for error.
Imagine being the Census Bureau, focused on data collection and analysis and hiring the people needed to do the statistical work while also having to configure 500,000 devices that needed perfect connectivity in the field, solid cybersecurity to protect people’s private data and a simple interface for temporary workers who may never have been part of a census count before.
The Census Bureau didn’t have to imagine it — bureau officials tried it once, and called that process “painful.” We were able to step in.
The process could have been even more problematic as the pandemic took hold and the bureau had to pause operations. Moving to a remote and socially distanced environment was also a challenge for us, and we didn’t have to count 330 million people at the same time.
Help Agencies Focus on Their Core Priorites
Think about the other work-related effects of the pandemic — how much the need for remote communication has increased as a result. Having the best system for that, until last March, had not been a primary goal for most federal agencies. Having that ability today helps them focus on their missions.
All projects are important to the customer, whether the need is 500,000 devices or 5,000, and all customers need support. We now know that we can provide that critical support, no matter the size of the program. We can get an agency out of the end-user device business and allow its staff to focus on its core mission.
When you align your objective to meet a customer’s mission, and the implications of the customer not being able to accomplish it are huge, that becomes your driving force.
The decennial census count is a unique, exciting and nationally important mission, but the determination needed to help a customer — all of our customers, no matter the size — meet a critical goal is embedded in our DNA.