The 5 Key Federal IT Trends to Watch in 2019

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IT modernization will proceed apace, cybersecurity will focus on high-value assets and Windows 10 migrations will pick up.

Heading into 2018, there was an expectation that federal IT modernization would accelerate. In many respects, it did, with more agencies buying and using cloud services than ever, the Technology Modernization Fund doling out tens of millions of dollars in funding for IT upgrades at agencies, and the General Services Administration working with the Agriculture Department (and soon the Department of Housing and Urban Development) on its Centers of Excellence IT modernization model.

As 2018 draws to a close, it appears that 2019 will be a year of transition in federal IT. Agencies will likely make more progress on these fronts, as well as on areas like cybersecurity and migrations to Microsoft’s Windows 10. The government will continue to plow ahead on technology modernization changes, including data center consolidation and modernizing networks, but do not expect a Big Bang in federal IT in 2019.

“I hate to use a sports metaphor,” says Shawn McCarthy, director of research at IDC Government Insights. “It’s like you have a team that is on its way up, but not totally ready for prime time. This is going to be a building year for them, when people will start getting their act together for great things in the future.” 

Agencies will continue to modernize and shift to the cloud. Cybersecurity regimes will focus much more on protecting high-value assets. The Defense Department’s JEDI and DEOS cloud contracts will dominate cloud news. And agencies will realize they need to need to move off of Windows 7. There will be a lot of movement, but none of it will be earth shattering. Nonetheless, here are the key trends to watch out for in federal IT in 2019. 

1. IT Modernization Efforts Will Continue Apace

What is clear is that the focus on IT modernization is not going away. It is embedded in the President’s Management Agenda, which was released in March. The Office of Management and Budget says agencies remain on track to meet their IT modernization goals under the PMA

“You have got pretty solid evidence that everyone is going to move what they can — emphasis on what they can — to the cloud,” says McCarthy, as agencies focus on cost savings and enhanced security, and because they realize that maintaining legacy on-premises systems is costly and hinders innovation and security

Agencies now have until October 2020 to meet the requirements of the Data Center Optimization Initiative, and OMB is putting in place new guidelines for data centers. Meanwhile, GSA has extended the deadline for agencies to transition to the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions networking contract from 2020 to 2023, but to qualify for the extension agencies need to truly modernize their networks. 

A recent survey of federal CDW customers revealed that applications and identity management systems are the technologies most in need of modernization.  

McCarthy notes that many of these efforts are unfunded, and for agencies to truly push forward they will need backing and direction from their secretaries or heads. That way, CIOs can make the case that IT investments need to be made in the near term to produce savings in the long term, since modern cloud services and networks are generally less costly to maintain than legacy ones and bring enhanced security. However, McCarthy says this will likely not happen across the board. 

“Would I like to see it? Absolutely,” he says. “Do I think we will see it? Unfortunately, I don’t. To some people, it looks like an increase in spending. They don’t want to have to show that. So, it’s easier to urge people along, baby steps at a time.”

2. Cloud Migrations Will Happen on a Case-by-Case Basis

The big news in federal cloud in 2018 was the release in September of the White House’s Cloud Smart strategy. The new policy, which OMB hinted at in June, is not a radical overhaul of the government’s approach to the cloud, but is a positioned as a recalibration that reflects how the technology has evolved since Cloud First was formally introduced in 2011

Cloud Smart encompasses several key components of IT modernization including security, procurement and workforce, recognizing that they are all “deeply linked, and require an integrated, interdisciplinary approach, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to IT modernization.” OMB claims the new cohesive strategy will lead to savings, security and faster delivery of mission-serving solutions.

Importantly, the strategy emphasizes that agencies should take a tailored approach to cloud deployments and focus on cloud solutions that help fulfill their missions. “Cloud Smart focuses on equipping agencies with the tools needed to make informative technology decisions in accordance with their mission needs, and leverages private sector solutions to provide the best services to the American people,” the strategy notes. 

This means, in practice, that each cloud migration will be evaluated as its own unique business case, McCarthy says. In some cases, agencies may decide it is less costly to keep legacy systems running and that they do not need to move specific applications or data to the cloud. However, only some agencies will push for an in-depth, return on investment analysis, according to McCarthy. It is often best to do migrations on a portfolio basis, in which similar systems are moved to the cloud, he notes. 

3. Cybersecurity Efforts Will Focus on High-Value Assets

In May, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new Binding Operational Directive designed to enhance cybersecurity for agencies’ so-called “high-value assets.” This is part of a push that started in 2017 with President Donald Trump’s cybersecurity executive order

However, by September, DHS had issued a report that said “agencies need help in understanding the architectural weaknesses within [high value] systems" and need additional assistance to protect them, FCW reports.

In a memo released this week, OMB extended its program to protect high-value assets to all agencies and also expanded its definition of such assets. The new guidance established three new categories for designating systems and information as high-value assets. The guidance considers information or a system an HVA “if the system holds or transmits high-value information relating to the government or adversaries, if information or a system is necessary to an agency's mission or if the information or system has a critical security function,” as FCW notes.

McCarthy says it is important for agencies to look within their cybersecurity perimeters and focus on data protection. “Don’t count on firewalls and external perimeter resources to be the only things that are looking out for you,” he says. Agencies will likely need to invest in encryption for data at rest and in motion, McCarthy adds. 

4. DOD’s JEDI and DEOS Cloud Contracts Will Dominate Landscape

The biggest cloud contract in the government is controversial, to say the least. The DOD’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract could be worth up to $10 billion over 10 years. The Pentagon plans to use the contract to gain greater access to commercial Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service capabilities. However, several cloud vendors have filed protests and lawsuits over the contract. 

The Government Accountability Office has struck down bid protests from IBM and Oracle, the latter of which has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, saying the DOD “violated federal procurement laws and regulations in at least seven significant ways, “as Federal News Radio reports. 

As The Washington Post reports, the DOD aims to award the contract in early 2019. But JEDI is not the only major cloud contract DOD plans to award. DOD and GSA said earlier this month that industry should expect the request for proposals on its $8 billion Defense Enterprise Office Solution contract in February, with an award expected in April. Under DEOS, the Pentagon plans to consolidate and upgrade all of its desktop and collaboration services into the commercial cloud, Federal News Radio reports. 

5. Agencies Will Upgrade to Windows 10 as Windows 7 Deadline Looms

On Jan. 14, 2020, Microsoft will stop mainstream technical support for Windows 7, meaning it will no longer issue regular security patches and updates to machines running the older operating system. 

That deadline will likely spur more agencies to follow those that have been leaders in the migration to Windows 10. A recent survey of federal CDW customers revealed that a third of them view Windows 10 migration as a top priority. 

“Anybody that is still using Windows 7 is kind of nursing it along at this point,” McCarthy says. “It makes no sense.” The cost of new PCs running Windows 10 is now low, and Windows 10 offers lots of new options and features, including enhanced cybersecurity and the ability to do work on multiple devices and access essential apps via the desktop or the cloud. 

The typical government PC lifecycle is three to four years, McCarthy notes, meaning it is high time for agencies to make the switch to the newer platform.

This content is made possible by FedTech. The editorial staff of Nextgov was not involved in its preparation.

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