The federal government has made significant progress in exploring the digital frontier over the past 10 months. When the pandemic necessitated people to shelter in place and work from home, it accelerated a mass transition to digital. Within weeks, organizations like the Department of Defense and the U.S. Congress raced to the cloud, enabling better telework capabilities for employees and online communication tools for customers.
But now, as we look ahead, we know that the hard work for federal CIOs and other technology leaders has only begun. Closing our federal “digital divide” effectively will be an ongoing process that requires a commitment to data and innovation at the highest leadership levels. Here are three recommendations to help you make progress in 2021 and beyond:
Assess your digital platform technologies holistically.
During the pandemic, many federal agencies transitioned quickly to build or increase their presence on digital platforms, demonstrating the value of the cloud to support agility and resiliency. So now is a critical time for CIOs to closely examine what’s in place, where gaps remain, and how their digital platforms are interacting.
Start by taking a holistic look at your portfolio and an inventory of what capabilities you have today. And don’t think of platforms in a monolithic sense, with one platform addressing every need. Many agencies are using a variety of best-of-breed solutions to address internal and external requirements respectively.
For instance, we recently helped the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) build an innovative solution to transform the home loan experience for veterans, improving its integration across the business. The effectiveness of their earlier tool was restricted by a lack of interoperability with other information systems. We delivered the enterprise application in VA enterprise cloud, leveraging DevOps, agile methodology, and SaaS platforms.
Finally, create a team (i.e., a digital service factory) to support and innovate on your platforms over the long term. Even when it becomes safer for more employees to return to offices, the need for digitization won’t dissipate. Seamless and integrated digital platforms will help agencies stay mission ready for post-pandemic recovery as well as for future disruptions, whether that’s a cyber threat or something else unforeseen that we can’t yet predict.
Build an agile organization.
If you have one department that’s agile, and another one that’s not, transformations may not succeed. That’s because technology alone isn’t enough to create lasting value. In order to successfully scale digital transformations, you must make agility an agency-wide mandate. That means integrating and syncing up agile practices across the entire agency, from IT to procurement to acquisition models.
Last year, the agile method made a huge impact at the VA as they built features for expanded benefits made possible by the 2017 Forever GI Bill. When a large-scale revamp spans across business silos, affects multiple processes, and has numerous stakeholders as well as numerous beneficiaries, an agile approach helps everyone involved stay accountable and on track.
An agile organization also prioritizes ongoing feedback, making it both a long-term guiding principle as well as a core project management framework. Specifically, agencies can employ agile approaches to chart their evolution and drive continuous improvement – for example, managing the evolution to more high-value tasks as increasing layers of automation are integrated into existing business processes.
Put people first.
People’s behaviors and expectations have changed dramatically during the pandemic, as events of the past year upended so much of what we took for granted. So now, as we look ahead at 2021, we must take a human-centric lens to everything we do, including IT modernization, and focus on helping people solve their challenges as we map out new territory.
Ongoing commitments to digitization will be crucial to meet people’s needs equitably and effectively. According to Accenture’s Federal Technology Vision 2020, more than three-quarters of federal executives know that organizations need to dramatically reengineer the experiences that bring technology and people together in a more human-centric manner.
Digitally oriented, human-centric organizations can more effectively maintain continuity of services and ongoing communications with citizens about public health initiatives like vaccine distribution, unemployment benefits, and more. They can improve citizen engagements and offer transparency into otherwise opaque government services.
Clearly, the federal government is at a technology inflection point. CIOs will need to radically optimize their use of technology in ways that help support the mission of their agency and the new administration. There is no one quick-fix solution, no one technology that fits all.
Instead, real impact and lasting value will necessitate taking a hard look at your entire technology ecosystem and developing a playbook for the future through data-driven analysis and agile innovation practices.