The Problem: Federal Agencies Lag in Race for IT Talent
Federal agencies are focused on accelerating IT modernization. To do it, however, they need more IT talent, and they need it quickly. Federal IT shops, however, are struggling to keep pace due to head count limitations, lengthy hiring and security clearance processes, and intense competition from the private sector.
From my experience in government IT leadership, I understand firsthand the arduous process of hiring in the federal government, especially for positions that require security clearances. These processes, while necessary, exacerbate an already serious talent squeeze. This reality was a driving factor in the federal government’s commitment a few years back to embrace commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions and rely heavily on outsourced resources.
However, we’re seeing the pendulum shift away from COTS in recent years as the federal government’s technology requirements have become increasingly complex and unique. As the federal government is once again focused on building its own solutions, the talent squeeze and skills gap has once again come to the fore as a constraint on more rapid adoption and innovation.
The bottom line: The government simply doesn’t have the expertise it needs at the scale required to deliver solutions quickly, and competition for talent is more intense than ever.
Agencies Faces Restrictions in Working with Systems Integrators
To solve its IT resource issues, federal agencies have historically relied on federal systems integrators to deliver expertise and execute projects. Contracting restrictions, however, place stringent constraints that limit FSI resources to specific contract vehicles.
There is little flexibility to realign those resources to meet emerging demands without more rigorous contracting. In addition, with subsequent projects, federal IT leaders find that they are often mapped to an entirely new set of FSI resources, which requires them to repeat the learning curve for each new initiative.
While the FSI model is necessary and adds value for many initiatives, today’s IT leaders also seek greater flexibility and agility and need the resources to support new projects quickly and pivot as needed.
Subscription Engineering Is a Force Multiplier
Today’s rapidly changing requirements demand a new approach. Agencies are embracing the subscription model for computing resources, and it’s time to apply this same concept to technical expertise, engineering and development resources in particular.
A new paradigm is emerging based on the concept of an engineering pod subscription service, enabling the elastic engineering support that today’s federal IT leaders require. Elastic engineering is outcome-focused to provide consistent value on projects.
With elastic engineering, feds have access to a team of engineering specialists — or a “pod” — with a broad range of capabilities to deliver a broad range of solutions over the course of the subscription.
The idea is that agencies can engage with these pods for short-term support or an extended relationship. IT leaders can leverage those resources across one or multiple projects and realign them as needed to address changing priorities.
The key to success with this approach is that resources must be hands-on, doing the work needed to help agencies meet the mission. Workers must also have all the necessary security clearances in place and understand the federal agency model and requirements.
Additionally, the resources in the pod must remain consistent, enabling the team to build a strong understanding of the agency, its priorities and culture. This eliminates the perpetual learning curve and accelerates time to value. Relationships also develop that can facilitate transfer of knowledge to federal IT team members.
Times and requirements have changed, and so must models for procuring much-needed talent. A subscription engineering model provides a viable and attractive path forward. Agencies benefit from flexible resources focused on outcomes and can adapt to meet changing requirements and advance knowledge transfer to internal teams. This approach will pave the way for faster and more effective modernization across the federal government, just as cloud computing did more than a decade ago, while revolutionizing how agencies deliver on their missions.