What is the 'New Normal' for IT Modernization?

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Given that protocols requiring social distancing are likely to remain in effect for some time, the likelihood of workers returning to offices at pre-pandemic levels seems slim.

In the throes of a global pandemic, the same issues and challenges facing the private sector and its workforce are magnifying for government. But government cannot take the same measures to address and overcome these hurdles as the private sector. For years, IT and mission leaders have worked tirelessly to implement the types of modernizations that will increase government’s ability to meet its mission. In the face of COVID-19, the momentum behind these modernizations has increased. Indeed, the pandemic will serve as the forcing function for expedited technological leaps to improve government’s operability.

How is the pandemic impacting modernization efforts and driving government’s IT roadmap?

The End of the Concern over Remote Worker Productivity

Before the pandemic, the administration made major efforts to roll back a significant increase in telework implemented previously. COVID-19 has made telework ubiquitous across agencies, although many federal workers harbor doubts that the expansion of telework will remain after the pandemic subsides. Given that protocols requiring social distancing are likely to remain in effect for some time, the likelihood of workers returning to offices at pre-pandemic levels seems slim—particularly as managers have seen how productive remote work can be.

Undeniable Proof of the Cloud Imperative 

The necessity of investment in cloud migration is evident in the recent finding from IDC that despite an overall slowdown in IT spending by government, there has been an increase in spending on cloud-based tools. IT leaders within government see the capabilities that cloud enables with crystal clarity. For example, Veterans Administration Department Deputy CIO Dominic Cussatt has pointed outright to having a commercially delivered cloud environment already in place before the pandemic as the key enabler of interoperability, flexibility and the ability to scale virtualized service delivery to veterans during the pandemic quickly.

Push for Greater Flexibility and Agility in Contracting

The pandemic required agencies to move quickly to acquire goods and services, and contracting authorities rose to the occasion. The General Services Administration, for example, reduced the average time to contract modifications to support agencies like Small Business Administration's new needs to just five days. The Health and Human Services Department, which had to scale quickly for secure capabilities, secured a new task order on the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract in just about one month. The desire for this level of agility isn’t likely to fade after the pandemic subsides.

Continued Rise of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

As a result of the pandemic, intent-based networking to inform network bandwidth needs and chatbots for citizen service platforms, represent just two artificial intelligence and machine learning-driven capabilities that have drawn greater interest as enablers of efficiency and mission delivery. The VA rolled out its coronavirus chatbot just a few weeks ago in response to an influx of veterans’ questions about the virus, its symptoms, and where to get help.

As-a-service Models Rule the Day

With a greater emphasis on cloud-based capabilities comes an even greater uptake of elastic as-a-service models. The flexibility inherent to these models will continue to help agencies scale quickly and help alleviate the vicious IT lifecycle management needs.

What else? 

What other modernization trends will continue to gain a foothold as accelerated modernization due to the pandemic continues? Outcomes-based software frameworks and delivery approaches that reduce time to deployment like DevSecOps and agile, as well as product line management vs. project-based approaches, will enjoy greater uptake. Also, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will stop becoming a talking point and start gaining real traction as remote work continues as a norm. Government will continue to turn to its private sector partners to operationalize the modernization efforts that will ultimately help improve mission delivery during times of calm and crisis.

Overall, many in IT and mission leadership hope that these trends, including a more exceptional ability to work remotely, will ultimately result in government becoming more attractive to the young, competitive workforce and stanch the IT brain drain that has long plagued the federal workforce.

Laura Klebanow is a senior manager at Maximus.

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