Choosing Transformation Agents: How GSA is Driving Digital Modernization with the Cloud

GSA CIO David Shive addresses the crowd at the Customer Innovation Series at Google Cloud Next '19.

GSA CIO David Shive addresses the crowd at the Customer Innovation Series at Google Cloud Next '19. Google Cloud

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As the trailblazer of innovation in the federal government, GSA serves as a digital consultancy for other federal agencies, using partnerships with the private sector for digital transformation and modernization.

For a rapidly transforming agency in the government sphere, there is a thin line between success and failure. The General Services Administration has been at the forefront of leveraging new technologies to optimize their performance and ensure their technology investments not only reduce costs, but create a productive, efficient and engaging place to work. On stage at Google Cloud Next’19 in San Francisco this week, GSA CIO David Shive spoke about the critical role that public and private partnerships play for the GSA enterprise to achieve its goals and how they’ve learned from failure in a complex digital world.

As the trailblazer of innovation in the federal government, GSA serves as a digital consultancy to other federal agencies as well as a breeding ground for some of the best tech talent in both the public and private sector. Each technological exploration or shift GSA takes is deeply intentional, with intersecting strategies that pave the way for other agencies to adopt in order to achieve mission success. Vetting change for the federal government means being able to ideate “what we do and how we deliver by rapidly iterating to things that work and rapidly pivoting away from things that don’t,” Shive says.

Starting their Google journey in 2011, GSA worked with Google Apps for Government, now known as G Suite, helping it become the first cloud and collaboration email suite to receive federal certification (FISMA). This effort migrated 17,000 GSA employees and contractors to Google’s integrated and robust email and communication service. Prior to the move, a third party analyzed the costs associated with GSA’s earlier email use and concluded that the switch to Google Cloud would cut half of the agency’s mobile workforce costs between 2011 and 2016, amounting to $15 million. Thus, GSA went from using 17 different email platforms to just one.

This initial project launched a new way of thinking and approach to IT in the government space, making GSA the first agency to adopt cloud-based technology agency-wide. Keeping taxpayer dollars in mind, GSA must test and weigh the risks of transformational technologies.

“We’re obligated to do well for [taxpayers], and that’s a significant influence on how and why we do our technology,” Shive says. “We share everything: We share our playbooks, we share our configurations, we share talent, we share our infrastructure.” GSA talent has expanded into leadership roles across business enterprises as CTOs and division heads at companies such as Salesforce.

Shive attributes much of GSA services’ impact to the agility, collaboration, and security provided by industry partners like Google Cloud. “Partnership is a key part and parcel to everything we do,” Shive says. Since 2011, Google is a “lever” for GSA, helping GSA use the adoption of cloud platforms to shrink the number of applications they have to service, while increasing their employees’ power, efficiency and overall happiness.

Even as technology changes, GSA’s IT mission remains clear-cut: Improve how federal agencies buy, build and use technology, aligned with shifting consumer needs in step with today’s evolving world. To continue leading this charge, GSA emphasizes the importance of private and public technology partnerships. For GSA, Google is a turnkey partner that enables flexible collaboration in real-time, reducing data risks and streamlining internal transactions.

A partner who listens and reacts well to agency needs are some of the hallmarks of a good public-private partnership. “When you’re choosing your transformation agents, choose very carefully, they can be that thin line between success and failure,” Shive says. To transform “the legacy of government,” GSA aims to draw close parallels between the way citizens interact with both the commercial world and government, and sees Google as a mission-aligned match.

Implementing and enforcing change takes work on both ends, with consistent investment from both GSA and Google to evolve solutions based on customer feedback and market needs. At Google Next ‘19, Google Cloud released over 30 announcements just on Wednesday alone, making key enterprise advancements in collaboration, data analytics, AI & machine learning, as well as cloud networking, to name a few. Feedback from customers like GSA are at the center of these innovations, alleviating concerns around communications consistency by automating scheduling, management, and response.  

For example, demand for more advanced analytics is now pushing GSA to explore creative, yet practical, use cases in these spaces. GSA launched its Emerging Citizen Technology program to aid more than 300 federal, state, and local partners evaluate how technologies such as virtual reality and blockchain can provide value for citizens. After adopting G Suite, GSA found itself quickly adopting more and more Google technologies, turning to Google Drive, Google Docs and Google Apps Script, Shive says. Tools from Google Cloud are helping GSA make these transformations quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively.

GSA’s approach to innovation also means never sacrificing security. In a time where cyberattacks and data breaches are more common today than ever, a compromise can mean dire consequences. Google Cloud has comprehensive security capabilities, with new advancements in visibility, control, and automation just announced, that comply with government regulations while protecting against complex threat environments, an integral component for GSA while it dives into unchartered IT territories. New G Suite integration tools announced by Google Cloud on Wednesday were designed to keep businesses and agencies like GSA on the fast track to innovation and help them move rapidly in federal technology adoption while keeping customer satisfaction at 91 percent.

GSA’s unique position as the first federal partner to adopt G Suite and Google Cloud technologies has helped them become a leader in government innovation today. GSA approaches digital transformation and organizational management with pragmatism, precision and agility -- much of which is possible due to the partnership with Google Cloud. “There were zero agencies in the federal government were using cloud-based email when we started,” Shive says. “The technology piece frankly is the easy part, but the hard part is organizational change management. We had to be very intentional about the partner we chose, and we chose Google."