An Open Letter to the New Federal CIO

Sean Pavone/

Welcome to Washington.

Dear Ms. Kent:

Welcome to Washington. We’re glad you’re here and are eager for your fresh perspective.

As you dive into your work as federal CIO, there’s no shortage of priorities awaiting your attention—from wrangling cyber to blazing the trail for Modernizing Government Technology Act working capital funds. At the same time, we stand on the threshold of true government modernization—not just technology modernization. The vision before us is one of a government that is smarter and more efficient and productive in fulfilling its mission.

Resourcefulness is at the core of jump-starting this transformation. There’s consensus about the need to apply next-generation technology in the federal realm. The devil is in the details, however, in terms of balancing and optimizing risk and reward—especially when national security and taxpayer dollars are at stake. We cannot afford to linger in our journey, and we have a vital tool at our disposal to help simplify the risk/reward balancing act: managed services.

Envision managed services as the express lane to IT modernization, providing a stable and safe platform—and flexible roadmap—for accelerating the journey to the cloud, creating secure infrastructures and achieving smarter, more efficient government services. With this approach, we can more advantageously collapse fragmented IT infrastructures to reduce costs and complexity. This also supports a security-first mandate, as there are fewer points for vulnerability; security best practices and solutions can be managed and enforced more consistently as well.

A managed services model can also free up agency teams—and their budgets—to focus on true innovation as upgrades become routine instead of intensive multi-year initiatives. This shares costs and risk broadly and creates a viable and safe incubator for taking advantage of next-gen technology.

Given the scale of the IT modernization mission, collaboration among agencies and with the private sector is vital. In our quest to harness the imagination of the best and brightest from within the ranks of government, the Beltway, Silicon Valley and emerging innovation hubs across our nation, we need expanded dialogue, opportunities and a genuine openness to new approaches to accelerate our path forward.

To capture the greatest opportunities from transitioning federal IT workloads to the rapidly evolving cloud environment, we must harvest the innovations available from all of the major cloud players. The market is trending toward hybrid, multi-cloud, and multi-vendor approaches—and for good reason. It pays off. However, managing multi-cloud environments is challenging, as each vendor has its own user interface and application programming interface. Agency CIOs will crave—and they can have—a single pane-of-glass dashboard to provide an integrated view and control across the entire enterprise.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also proving to be engines of innovation for federal IT. On an operational level, AI/ML can help ease the transition of legacy applications into the cloud and onto new platforms that can support ongoing innovation. There are companies using AI to automate migration tasks. Leveraging such technology could be game-changing for federal IT modernization.

On a strategic level, AI can help federal IT convert the government’s vast data stores into insights and intelligence that drive greater efficiencies and effectiveness on agency missions. Every day, the government collects mountains of “dark data,” which continues to accumulate since the government doesn’t have the resources to mine for strategic insight. By leveraging AI, fewer hands on keyboards would be required, leading to greater efficiency and impact.

With vulnerabilities and attacks changing daily, cybersecurity must be in the DNA of each layer of every solution stack. The new world of cyber will pit AI against AI, with the government racing to detect and remediate threats just as quickly as anyone can create them.

We also cannot ignore the human factor. Effective IT security begins with cyber education for every person who touches an IT asset. Thus, no strategy is complete without cyber training for both users and administrators.

Revisiting the theme of resourcefulness—we have an opportunity to apply this concept to removing institutional obstacles that impede progress. Many CIOs have been frustrated by arcane policies and processes that stand between their sincere intent and their actual ability to realize change. The time is right to accelerate creative options that balance risk and the ability to achieve progress—especially in the area of budgeting and procurement.

Ms. Kent, you are taking the helm at an exciting time. You have at your disposal an unprecedented array of technologies and talented professionals focused on government transformation. We look forward to your creative and pragmatic approach to leveraging these powerful resources in the quest for modernization.

Best wishes for an immensely successful journey.

Yogesh Khanna is senior vice president and chief technology officer for CSRA Inc.