Survey: Federal IT workers say agencies are lagging with digital transformations

In a survey, 88% of federal employees working full-time in technology or IT-focused roles say agencies have fallen behind on modernization plans, citing cultural resistance to change and the inability of contractors to quickly implement new initiatives.

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The majority of federal employees say digital transformations across government agencies are lagging in part due to cultural resistance to change and the inability of contractors to quickly implement initiatives, according to a new survey.

The survey found 88% of federal employees working in technology or IT-focused roles say their agencies have fallen behind on modernization plans, while 73% of those surveyed say their agency lacks a clear vision for a digital transformation.

Kyle Tuberson, chief technology officer of ICF International and the author of the federal digital transformation report published on Wednesday, told FCW the pandemic exposed major modernization challenges while simultaneously creating a "renewed push" to modernize aging IT infrastructure.

"Now, there is more need than ever for organizations to undergo digital transformation to future-proof critical functionalities," Tuberson says. "With the sheer amount of new technology and platforms available and access to a remote-first workforce from across the U.S., this is a key opportunity for agencies to push and complete modernization."

Of the 500 federal full-time employees surveyed, 51% say a culture resistant to change is the top reason for failed digital transformation plans.

Other top reasons for digital transformation failures include inadequate risk management, security concerns and a lack of clear vision from leadership, in addition to contractor implementation issues.

Federal employees also say they are worried about the ripple effect those failures will have on the public, with 59% expressing concerns about burdensome customer experiences while accessing critical resources online.

"Today's federal CIOs are looking to optimize their business practices, and many are quickly embarking on transformation efforts without being fully prepared to overcome potential roadblocks," Tuberson adds. "Our report revealed that many federal agencies don't holistically understand current system needs, face resistance from employees, or encounter misalignment among stakeholders."

Federal CIOs have largely focused on transforming data center infrastructure and improvements to the online user experience while rolling out official modernization plans in recent years. Both efforts can prove financially beneficial: some agencies have reported billions of dollars in cost savings after implementing initiatives around data center optimization.

But the COVID-19 crisis proved that outdated infrastructure is still having an adverse impact on everything from internal agency operations to public health.

"Creating and maintaining this infrastructure will allow agencies to transmit key healthcare information across states and agencies, while also devising plans for how to protect against and mitigate similar pandemics and IT shortcomings in the future."

The federal digital transformation survey was conducted virtually by Wakefield Research between May 28 to June 10. Federal employees surveyed for the report included GS 9 and 10 employees, GS 11+ employees, contract specialists and program managers.