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Make 2017 the Year of a Digital-First Federal Government



By Dan Helfrich February 2, 2017

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Dan Helfrich is a principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP and federal government services leader.

When a new administration begins, the only constant is change. While incoming agency leaders and policy details continue to be confirmed and ironed out, one thing that’s clear is the need for a digital-first government in order to create more efficiency, enable mission delivery and connect with citizens.

According to John Breeden II, a Nextgov columnist and CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, federal technology trends in 2017 will run the gamut of topics, ranging from artificial intelligence to internet of things to blockchain to endpoint security. How can the federal government take advantage of these tech trends? The first step is by fulling embracing a digital-first mindset.

We Live in a Digital-First World

The importance of a digital-first government struck me recently when I came across this quote from Apple’s Angela Ahrendts: “I grew up in a physical world, and I speak English. The next generation is growing up in a digital world, and they speak social.”

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The youngest generation is growing up in a digital world. They are digital natives. Making the necessary digital-first changes now, the federal government can be ready to better serve those up and coming, digital natives as they begin their interactions with the government.

The Obama administration made great strides by bringing more tech-savvy individuals into the government. Agencies have made progress, and it will be interesting to see what approach the Trump administration takes to marry policy goals of a more efficient and effective government with the tech that can support them.  

While more online services and mobile apps will hopefully populate the federal sphere, that is not the only importance of a movement to a digital-first government. Digital-first government is a complete shift in mindset.

Everything the federal government does should be thought of digitally first. Then, the workforce, business strategy and technology investments can get in sync by following suit.

Welcome New Tech Innovators into Federal Marketplace

The federal workforce is only one part of creating a more digital-first government—those in the federal contracting community are another important piece. Traditional and nontraditional companies should come to federal clients with this same digital-first mindset to truly drive change. And emerging tech companies need to feel welcome and become a part of the digital government discussion.

Medallia, for example, is an effective customer-experience platform many leading brands use to operationalize customer feedback and take real-time action to improve customer experience. This type of innovative platform could be a great asset to many federal agencies.

This is just one example of how established or emerging tech companies could play a bigger role in the government’s digital transformation to better serve citizens. And more can be done to support the efforts of organizations like Dcode42 that help more tech companies enter the federal marketplace in order to continue to drive innovation.

Think Across an Organization: Break Down the Silos

Whether you are inside government or working alongside a government client, you should think differently. For example, when you think about cyber, it is an ever-growing challenge because of consistently new technology. We are taking more technological risks with this embrace of digital.

So how do you prioritize those risks related to your tech investments? How do you plan for or test your agency’s resiliency to a cyberattack? If you take a digital-first approach, your organization’s cyber posture is part of the strategy, planning and execution. It is a natural fit.

It is the same situation with data analytics. If you want to do more with your data or get better, cleaner data—all of that is tied to your organization’s interaction with its customers. And how you approach your customer experience is connected to the data inputs—they all intersect—all of these trends. Our government can no longer afford, especially with these new generations on the horizon, to keep managing and operating in silos.

A digital-first government is about breaking down those barriers, sharing information and using technology as a way to drive mission outcomes. For example, while many agencies have moved to the cloud. But moving to the cloud is more than lifting and shifting applications—it is about cloud-native applications are designed based on current (or future) mission or business needs.

Change as a Force for Action

Change is constant inside and outside of government. It can be a force for big, bold action. Let’s embrace it to drive innovation and deliver on the promise of digital for a more efficient and effective government.


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