A group of leading federal technologists explained themes of data-driven decision making combined with sub-agency feedback in digital transformation efforts.
Digital modernization goals across various federal agencies for 2022 hinge on leadership understanding the individual agency missions to improve customer experience, according to several federal chief information officers.
Speaking during an ATARC panel on Tuesday, leaders in the public technology space discussed some of the most important parts of their agencies’ digital transformation journeys for the new year. One key theme across several departments is consistently engaging all program offices and sub agencies with larger department goals on implementing new emerging technologies into daily business applications.
“Every month we meet with each of the different agency components and look at their mission roadmap and how IT aligns with it,” Sanjay Koyani, the chief technology officer at the Labor Department said. He explained that engaging with staff across different sub-agencies improves the customer experience both for the agency as well as the civilian end user.
This approach also helps more efficiently allocate department resources and address the most pressing issues. Keeping the end user in mind when modernizing federal customer experience was highlighted in President Joe Biden’s modernization executive order from December 2021.
“For me, that’s a really fundamental component of any sort of digital transformation journey, is solving the right problem and talking to your customer well in advance of it,” said Kevin Duvall, the chief technology officer at the Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services. Duvall clarified that his office prioritizes serving children and families, and lets these end users act as guides when updating agency program websites and business applications.
Both Koyani and Duvall concurred that collecting feedback from a myriad of internal and external stakeholders supports individual modernization needs and focuses on aligning digital transformation to agency needs.
“Our goal is to continue to mature as a centralized service environment and at the same time continuing to figure out how to identify the best funding streams and the best prioritized approach for different agencies to get the different systems in place to modernize in a way that aligns with agency mission,” Koyani said.
The same strategy is in play for more decentralized agencies like NASA. Matt Dosberg, the acting associate division chief and digital transformation lead at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said that while his challenges begin with NASA’s decentralized layout, forming coalition-style groups to advocate mission level needs helps focus on specific solutions.
“The overall approach is building these partnerships and coalitions to partner on these enterprise solutions and try to build a more enterprise culture and approach,” he said. “Aligning to their priorities and their goals and understanding what their targeted outcomes are…is kind of key.”
Dosberg also noted another common thread federal organizations will lean heavily into for modernization insights: data. NASA aims to prioritize implementing data policy and digital engineering into offices, specifically the Goddard Space Flight Center, to help handle complex missions.
At Labor, Koyani said data would be a crucial metric as well.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do with our business applications is make sure that we have a strong data layer underneath it,” he said. Part of Labor’s digital overhaul plans include updating data dashboards for an easier user experience.
For many agencies, incorporating a stronger data architecture into federal applications can help fill the gap left behind by legacy systems as emerging technologies, such as automation or machine learning, are implemented.
Duvall also noted that having a stronger data-driven component to modernized enterprise architectures can also help measure modernization and digital transformation success.
Jonathan Alboum, who formerly served as the chief information officer at the Agriculture Department and is now chief technology officer at ServiceNow, concurred that data trends with federal agencies will depend on incorporating actionable data that drives effective business decisions.
Making this data actionable comes from an in-depth understanding of where the data comes from and how it moves through an environment.
“As you are digitizing your work we are trying to make it simpler for people to interact with our agencies from a CX perspective,” Alboum said. “Data is great, but how do you use it and how does it flow…I think that’s really critical…so we can take meaningful actions with it.”
Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify a panelist's job title.