COVID-19 made IT modernization a priority

Federal agency mission-oriented responses to COVID-19 have pushed aside lingering doubts about the need to step up IT, a Professional Services Council forecast found.

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The COVID-19 pandemic and the continued pressure to support telework and digital services will continue to influence IT modernization efforts according to the Professional Services Council's (PSC) newest research into how federal agencies may spend their budgets.

Although the PSC's 2020 Vision Forecast, released Nov. 9, predicted relatively modest growth in federal IT spending in the coming years, it also shows the pandemic is a driving IT modernization force, shoving aside lingering cultural concerns at agencies about change.

PSC's report paints a relatively stable picture for federal IT budgets in the coming few years, with civilian year-over-year growth at 1.8%, from 2020's $52 billion spend to $57 billion in 2026.

The study queried hundreds of agency executives, think tank experts, congressional staffers and Wall Street analysts, about what the biggest changes would be for federal agency IT budgets in the future. In those conversations, it became apparent that the pandemic has changed minds about the need to move to new technologies, said Greg Lobbin, a government contractor who previewed PSC's forecast for reporters on Nov. 5.

The fear of big IT changes has been a pernicious obstacle for federal technology modernization efforts in past years, Lobbin said. A lack of permanent agency leaders has also "chilled" transformational changes in the last few years, he said.

PSC's research showed that the last eight months have swept some of that aside, as agencies focused on their missions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences.

"We don't talk about COVID-19 being a good thing for many areas, but it did create a tipping point, a re-thinking and re-prioritization, a forcing function" to get the job done, he said. "We're seeing some movement around the approach to IT modernization that we believe will be positive."