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Why Updating Tech Infrastructure is as Critical as Updating Roads and Bridges

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By Bob Osborn March 28, 2017

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Bob Osborn is chief technology officer, federal, at ServiceNow

In his recent joint address to Congress, President Donald Trump doubled down on his commitment to modernizing the country’s physical infrastructure. To accomplish this mission, it’s vital the federal government dedicate the resources required to sustain the rebuilding project for decades. When we think of the president’s intent, we tend to imagine bridges, roads and airports. However, it is not only the physical infrastructure that requires a facelift but the IT infrastructure does as well.  

Just as our society depends on physical infrastructure assets and architecture to support our daily activities and commerce, we depend on the IT infrastructure and architecture with equal importance. Commercial companies provide applications and platforms that have modernized the ability for us to conduct almost any form of business or entertainment from our smartphones.  

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However, defense and civilian agencies struggle to provide speedy applications and trusty networks to deliver citizen services more than ever before. Similar to the aged bridges and deteriorating roads across our great nation, federal agencies face virtual IT roadblocks caused by antiquated systems, networks and architectures.

The federal government needs to have modern, reliable and secure technology that can keep up with the needs of citizens and federal employees alike. Creating an easily adaptable digital infrastructure will enable federal agencies to reap the benefits of faster network speeds and application performance, which will ultimately improve citizen and user experience for years to come. When we talk infrastructure improvements, we must include the IT component for our nation.

Drive the Mission with Automated Technology  

We’re living in the age of innovation, where new digitization and connectivity within the internet of things and other automated systems are used to streamline formerly tedious tasks with the click of a button. Americans have grown accustomed to utilizing automation all the time at home, so why should this modern technology be out of reach for the federal worker?

Unfortunately, when employing automated IT systems, the federal government has notoriously lagged behind the private sector and consumer market—agencies are still using technology several decades old. In fact, a report from the Government Accountability Office suggests in 2015, the federal government spent $55 billion, about 75 percent of the total IT budget, to support legacy IT. This means it is almost impossible for most agencies to rebuild and modernize the IT infrastructure of the federal government.

The U.S. Digital Service has worked to streamline government processes by updating antiquated systems with state-of-the-art tools. But USDS’ work isn’t done just yet, which is why it’s critical for the federal government to maintain digital programs. The adoption of automated systems and other digital efforts, including cloud migration, will ensure the government accomplishes key mission objectives, in addition to saving valuable taxpayer dollars.

However, this process stretches beyond simply adopting automated systems. A paradigm shift from an application management focus to platform management and enterprise service delivery is required to get governmental agencies up to speed. It is no longer affordable for the government to buy common capabilities in legacy fashion.

That is, each agency making isolated decisions while choosing unique and in many cases, proprietary solutions, to single threaded problems. Governments must be supported like large, multidivision, global enterprises. This shift in mindset is critical to embracing the transformational power of enterprise service delivery platforms.

Leverage FITARA to Enhance Productivity  

GAO will continue to release the semi-annual results of the FITARA scorecards this year, so it will be beneficial for the Trump administration to emphasize the importance of this law over time. It is likely the tone of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act may evolve as Congress makes appropriate revisions to the scorecard guidelines; however, FITARA will remain the foundation of the federal government’s digital transformation.   

Throughout the presidential race, Trump discussed the effectiveness of the federal government and raised the question of whether federal leaders were truly productive. FITARA can help Congress break down agency silos by regularly monitoring the performance and progress of federal IT leaders.

Additionally, FITARA can foster increased collaboration and communication between agency leaders. As former federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott explained in an exit interview, the success of FITARA is predicated upon agency teamwork and communication among agency executives.

“One of the big lessons learned though, some thought of this as just CIO authorities, whether it’s hiring or budget, but as we have gotten into implementation, almost every agency has realized this has to be a team effort between the CFOs, the chief human resource officers, the undersecretary for management and a bunch of different players can serve as enablers of the intent of FITARA,” Scott said.

The federal government won’t have a complete digital transformation overnight or even in the first 100 days of Trump’s term. It’ll take time, but it’s not a pipe dream. By prioritizing and leading the effort to modernize the federal government’s digital landscape, IT modernization across federal agencies will surely be successful.

For these reasons, the Trump administration must now place a greater emphasis on the federal government’s IT infrastructure, policies and resources to create a sound digital enterprise across federal agencies, increasing capabilities, reducing redundancy and reducing costs for years to come.

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