Jan 24 2022

Collaborative Learning Is Key to Federal IT Modernization

Increased partnerships between agencies and the private sector can make digital transformation easier in government.

A wealth of talent and technology resources are available throughout the federal government. Still, the government has a major problem: The vast majority of federal agencies remain behind the curve on the adoption of modern technologies. This limits their ability to use data to its greatest advantage, enjoy greater agility and responsiveness, and harden their security postures.

This is not new news. But the SolarWinds attack — along with the overall increased cyberthreat issues, privacy compliance concerns and supply chain management challenges -— brought the importance of federal IT modernization into sharper focus. These developments have highlighted the fact that data is an increasingly critical aspect of how the federal government functions.

So, why are government agencies moving so slowly when it comes to digital transformation? What can they do to adopt new approaches and systems to accelerate the needed change?

In short, there must be more collaboration between agencies and with the private sector. Agencies should share new approaches, ideas and successes. The good news is that, under the Biden administration, cybersecurity is seeing increased attention and collaboration from the public and private sectors.

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How the Government Has Responded to Heightened Cyberthreats

In January 2021, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency announced the Reduce the Risk of Ransomware Campaign to encourage public and private sector organizations to implement best practices, tools and resources to mitigate the risk and threat of ransomware.

In May 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to improve the government and country’s cybersecurity. In July, the administration “formed a multi-agency government task force aimed at curtailing malicious, state-sponsored cyber activity and hardening the nation’s cybersecurity defenses,” CBS News reported.

The president also issued a national security memorandum “to take steps to safeguard U.S. critical infrastructure from growing, persistent, and sophisticated cyber threats.” The White House came out with a memo noting that “the private sector also has a critical responsibility to protect against these threats.”

In August, as Federal News Network reported, CISA announced its collaboration “with major cloud providers, cyber companies, and other private sector partners under a new initiative aimed at combining efforts on planning, threat analysis, and defensive operations.”

EXPLORE: How will citizen services be modernized?

The Importance of Public-Private Collaboration

The importance of private sector involvement can’t be overstated. Organizations and individuals who have fought on the front lines against cybercriminals can share their experiences across various IT functions such as compliance, security and privacy.

There is a huge opportunity to level up the entire federal infrastructure, but it must start with working together with U.S. businesses and leading commercial vendors to assess what’s available and understand what has proven effective in the private marketplace.

How it all plays out remains to be seen, but such a group could harvest ideas to spur innovation, develop best-practice protocols that trickle down across organizations and collect input from agencies to make best use of what works — and quickly move on from what doesn’t.

The agencies that have moved furthest should share lessons learned with others. The president has said cybersecurity is a top priority, and the hope is that a central organization will help facilitate collaboration, both among government entities and with leaders in the private sector.

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What Broader Collaboration Could Enable for the Federal Government

Public-private and cross-agency collaboration on how best to modernize federal IT infrastructure could lead to a wide array of game-changing benefits, including:

  • Widespread automation. Rather than replacing workers, agencies could radically simplify multistep manual tasks. This can reduce risk, speed the execution of tasks and free up resources to focus on other valuable work.
  • Smarter machines. More agencies could also benefit from modern IT infrastructure that includes comprehensive data management that ingests and learns to use policy-driven data, with the ability to test and iterate models before deployment.
  • Improved safety. Data security and risk mitigation are both top of mind for organizations today. Powerful backup, recovery and data management protocols can enable government IT teams to spend less time managing data security and operations and more time innovating.
  • Accelerated cloud adoption. Collaboration among agencies and between public and private sectors could also further accelerate government agencies’ moves to the cloud and teach them how to leverage the advantages of hybrid cloud most effectively.
  • Future-proofed infrastructure. Technology moves quickly, but the goal is to create an IT infrastructure that’s effective now and in the future. Modern platform architectures and next-generation data management consolidate data workloads and ensure that government agencies and their data aren’t bound to outdated hardware or a single vendor or platform.

Accelerating collaboration to modernize IT infrastructure and practices across the government may seem like a simple idea, but executing on that can be a far more complex endeavor.

Collaboration on multiple fronts has already begun, but there’s much more to do. Widespread collaboration and IT modernization are massive undertakings, but protecting and advancing our interests is worth the extra effort.

DIVE DEEPER: What are the key challenges to digital transformation in federal IT?

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