Jul 26 2023

How Agencies Can Ensure Tech Purchases Integrate with Existing Environments

Assistance from prospective vendors, proofs of concept and technology credits help agencies plan for the future.

As the end of another fiscal year approaches, federal agencies are making the final decisions on what technology is a must-have before the current budget concludes. Impulse buys in a spend-it-or-lose-it situation are unwise, however.

Technology readiness is key to digital modernization — if new tech doesn’t work as promised within an existing system, program delays and unexpected costs can result. Agencies should ensure that their new purchases will fit into their existing infrastructure.

For a lot of agencies, this is easier said than done. Most do not have the expertise on staff to conduct this kind of assessment and avoid scenarios where they source technology that might sit in a warehouse for months while they attempt to make it compatible with existing systems — or never use it at all.

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There are some simple things that agencies can do, however, to at least start to close the gap between what their tech can handle and what’s available on the market. Patch management is critical; ensuring that all patches, subscriptions and licenses are up to date smooths the path a bit.

But one of the most reliable ways to make sure new technology will blend with the old is to ask the vendors. Often the gap between the current IT environment and the upgraded one is substantial, and procurement leans towards purchase of the best value/lowest cost equipment.

Ensure Tech Fits Your IT Environment Before Buying It

For that reason, the procurement process tends to include a phase where the aspiring vendor can offer a proof of concept showing that what the agency wants out of its purchase is not only possible, but feasible. This is necessary even when the agency is buying from the same original equipment manufacturer.

Take the case of Windows 10. Once support for Windows 7 ended in early 2020, agencies had to migrate to Windows 10 in order to maintain technical support and security upgrades. But some federal customers needed as long as a year to make that change, in order to get their master images updated to the point where they could accept the Windows 10 update.

Ben Bourbon, Vice President of Federal Sales, CDW•G
In the mercurial environment of government funding, the process of planning for and proving the worth of new technology is important for agencies.”

Ben Bourbon Vice President of Federal Sales, CDW•G

Some vendors have their own test environments to see if the government request is workable, and others work with universities or federally funded research and development institutions to get the job done.

Once agencies receive the finished proof of concept, they can revise their proposal in order to procure equipment that will work in their existing environment. (Sometimes they don’t, though, but that’s another story.)

Among the issues that the vendor and the agency should watch for is backwards compatibility. In most cases, agencies are as much as three to five version behind the more current product on the market.

DISCOVER: Enterprise integration modernization is key to agencies' digital transformations.

In some cases, it’s best for the vendor to not even suggest the latest technology, which may be too far past the agency’s existing tech capabilities — and which may be the foundation on which future upgrades are built, rather than something that can blend with older models.

Agencies should also ensure that they’ve got the physical infrastructure to support the desired new technology. Those that are renting space in new construction or remodeling an existing workspace must be aware of the potential for design changes that might cut space for large servers, for example, or power and cooling infrastructure that isn’t powerful enough to support the new technology.

Remember to Pre-Plan for New Technologies

In the mercurial environment of government funding, the process of planning for and proving the worth of new technology is important for agencies. Some years the funding doesn’t come; other years there’s a pile of unspent money as Sept. 30 approaches.

Third-party integrators can support agency customers in those circumstances. Some can provide credits or pre-packaged service offerings that enable an agency to have a line item in its budget to show what the project would cost without buying the technology.

The agency can purchase credits rather than products and use them when needed, rather than rushing to purchase equipment that may not be suitable, just because it’s the end of the fiscal year.

MORE FROM FEDTECH: 18F and USDS are driving federal digital transformation.

Pre-planning for new technology is also critical to avoid wasteful spending. A few years ago, the Office of Management and Budget began requiring agencies to follow the Technology Business Management model of operations in order to better track cost, quality and spending on IT.

That process is still being fine-tuned, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, but with $100 billion spent each year on government technology, it’s a step in the right direction.

Agencies that are cautious and realistic about the level of technology they buy can see a huge return; with the assistance of third-party vendors, they can modernize aging equipment with fewer delays, more efficient spending and a better understanding of their new environment.

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