Using the MGT Act to Fuel IT Modernization

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We are already beginning to see the positive impact of this legislation, including empowered CIOs.

An “across the aisle” commitment to modernizing federal IT is in full swing. President Trump’s signing of the Modernizing Government Technology Act and the issuance of the Report to the President on Federal IT Modernization continue the momentum that began with 1996’s Clinger-Cohen Act and continued with the Federal IT Acquisition and Reform Act under President Obama.

These acts and proposals reflect a concerted and ongoing effort to create federal IT infrastructures that are cost-effective and primed for innovation. The current administration’s recent efforts at IT modernization have been particularly aggressive, with the IT Modernization Report calling for the creation of Centers of Excellence and the MGT Act providing CIOs and agencies the ability to establish working capital funds to use their savings for modernization projects. Notably, $100 million was appropriated for the first year of the Technology Management Fund, a critical step in implementing the MGT Act.

Discretionary Technology Funds Are Creating Empowered CIOs

Historically, cost savings resulting from efficient IT initiatives were considered lost funds that became unavailable to CIOs, but that has changed. In addition to creating a $500 million central technology modernization fund, the MGT Act creates working capital funds based on total cost of ownership reduction that can be reinvested, creating a highly desirable innovation and cost savings cycle. Updating and replacing legacy systems can lead to greater efficiencies and even more savings, which can then be used to purchase additional solutions that can be used to achieve greater agility and cost savings, thereby continuing the cycle.

We are already beginning to see the positive impact of this legislation. The first of the Centers of Excellence, at the Agriculture Department, is aggressively seeking to cut costs to fuel the purchase of new technologies with an ultimate goal of leading to greater innovation. The Agriculture’s CIO is driving this initiative and, in collaboration with the GSA CoE, will be able to handpick the tools they believe can best move the agency forward.

Automation Is the Driving Force

Federal IT teams at agencies like Agriculture may wish to take a page out of Henry Ford’s old playbook and use automation to drive their own innovation/savings cycles. Just like Ford once applied revolutionary automation practices to produce America’s first affordable car, the Model T, federal CIOs can implement automation to create better and more efficient operations.

Automation can yield both financial and technical benefits. Automating functions and processes, including application development and deployment and automated implementation of security policies through DevSecOps strategies, can reduce costs and speed cycles by eliminating many time-consuming manual operations. Automation can also help federal IT teams accelerate their data center optimization and cost savings initiatives. The technical payoffs can include accelerated and simplified cloud migrations, greater availability of services and faster application development.

Shared Services Will Feed the Cycle

The MGT Act emphasizes the use of shared services, which can also feed the innovation-savings cycle. As articulated in the IT Modernization Report and the Federal IT Shared Services Strategy, shared services can eliminate waste and unnecessary technology duplication and help agencies reinvest in innovation.

However, many government organizations continue to use their own legacy siloed IT infrastructures and have become locked into outdated (and costly to support, if the support even exists) systems that are incompatible across agencies. Gartner has long highlighted concerns around vendor lock-in, and for good reason: using disparate systems can inhibit information sharing, create technical redundancies and pose integration challenges that ultimately can fall squarely on the shoulders of agency CIOs.

Open source can help eliminate these challenges. Open source infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service solutions are built on open standards and designed to integrate with solutions and infrastructures, thereby helping to reduce the amount of labor involved in the integration process and technical redundancies.

Open-source software also can enable developers to create more portable and flexible applications that can be easily moved between agencies and teams. Automation technologies like Ansible have the potential to play a fundamental role in effecting this change. The automation and optimization of existing legacy workloads can pave the way for automated deployment to the cloud, as well as enabling hybrid and multi-cloud strategies to help avoid lock-in to any single cloud vendor.

Modernization Will Continue Unabated—But Watch Out for Technical Debt

As CIOs enter this new phase of IT modernization, they must be careful not to fall into the same technical debt trap that led to the current risk situation that is trying to be solved by FITARA, MGT and the IT Modernization Report. Modernization is about streamlining, not cutting corners. CIOs can use their additional funds to invest wisely in solutions and processes that can help them develop applications correctly right out of the gate without having to go back to take the time to fix them later.

In any case, modernization efforts have ramped up impressively over the past 12 months. Through it all, open source has the potential to perform as the triple threat of commoditization, automation and innovation that can fuel the innovation and savings cycle while federal CIOs celebrate their newfound empowerment.

Adam Clater is chief architect of North America Public Sector at Red Hat