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PERSPECTIVES


Leading digital government: Kathy Conrad Q&A

Her wheels always turning with strategy and innovation, Kathy Conrad shares her experience helping federal agencies achieve the mission—and much more.

Overview

Kathy Conrad

Kathy Conrad
Director, Digital Government

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"Government needs to be able to leverage the enormity of data to make well-informed, data-driven decisions to meet changing needs."

Tell us about your role leading growth and strategy for Digital Government at Accenture Federal Services (AFS).

Because this is a new role within Accenture Federal Services, I was excited to take on such a challenging, meaningful opportunity. The role is evolving, and that makes it fun while also allowing me to be responsive to the changing needs of our clients.

I am growing our business of helping clients use digital to address agency challenges and better deliver services to customers—including citizens, employees, veterans and other stakeholders. Given that I come from a role at General Services Administration (GSA), where I had a government-wide view, I’m working across Accenture Federal Services to help ensure we are aligned with our clients’ priorities, emerging trends and the culture of government. I’m providing “voice of the customer” insight on relevant political and policy dynamics that inform how Accenture Federal Services develops new offerings, pursues new business and engages with clients.

What first led you to work in the government sector?
I began my career on Capitol Hill, and then moved to an engineering association. I was interested in how investing in higher education and technology was critical to global competiveness. I led a successful effort to expand the authorized mission of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to include engineering. This major change enabled increased federal investment in areas that could fundamentally improve the competitive stance of the United States, including computer science.

To help make that change real, I joined the NSF Legislative and Public Affairs team. As much as I enjoyed and was interested in science and technology policy, I decided that if I wanted to affect the way government uses technology to improve society, I should roll up my sleeves and get more directly involved with companies developing technology. I moved to the private sector for over 15 years, working with tech companies to learn how companies make decisions about how to innovate and bring new solutions to the federal market. I was determined at some point to come back to government and bring more knowledge and experience than when I left. In 2011, I was appointed to my role at GSA.

What were some of your biggest achievements at GSA?
Some of the major initiatives that I contributed to include FedRAMP, which established a reusable cloud security authorization process to accelerate cloud adoption across government.

I had the privilege of playing a key role in developing and implementing the White House Strategy on Digital Government. We created new platforms and solutions that made it possible for agencies to achieve the strategy’s objectives—delivering citizen-centered government anywhere, anytime, on any device. These include the Digital Analytics Program, and its public-facing dashboard, analytics.usa.gov, which allows agencies and the public to know how and where people are engaging online with government. It was the first solution of its kind in the United States, and it made government more open and transparent.

I also helped create the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and GSA 18F, which brought talented developers and designers into government to do a tour of duty and serve as catalysts for shifting to agile ways of designing and delivering technology solutions across government.

Tell us about any exciting initiatives you are working on at Accenture Federal Services.
I’m especially excited about the potential of our new digital studio. We bring to government an ability to transform major programs and services end to end, from discovering what users need, to service design and developing functional products in more effective and efficient ways. We’re not just talking about and marketing digital, but we’ve invested in bringing those capabilities to life to deliver at scale.

We are leveraging our global leadership, and we’ve hired smart and talented people who have grown their careers in the private sector. Accenture is doing groundbreaking work in digital with commercial clients and governments around the world. Being able to tie together our deep federal mission knowledge and experience with Fjord, our design and innovation arm, is just what government needs to achieve sustainable digital transformation.

What do you believe are the top digital challenges agencies are facing today?
Being able to move at scale to meet rapidly changing needs of government. We talk a lot about liquid expectations of customers. It means that as people experience services in everyday life—ordering from a web-based retailer, conducting an online banking transaction, ordering a car through Uber or booking a house through AirBnb, that simple, easy, quick experience with commercial brands translates to their expectations with government.

The digitization of everything puts government under tremendous pressure to deliver services quickly and efficiently, and do so in a way that is secure, respects privacy policy and takes advantage of new IoT-enabled capabilities. Government needs to be able to leverage the enormity of data to make well-informed, data-driven decisions to meet changing needs.

Agencies are investing more in agile—why do you think agile spending is on the rise?
It’s not just on the rise—we have achieved irreversible momentum. Agile implementation is now monitored by Congress under a law, FITARA (Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act), with regular scorecards showing agency progress.

There is also an imperative to reduce risk. Major failures of IT systems have led to the realization that there must be a better way of designing, developing and implementing systems with less risk and faster time to functional product. Agile reduces risk and can identify problems and issues early in the process so agencies can pivot and address concerns.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
There are two tenets that I have held true over the course of time. First, my parents instilled a belief that if you do your best, you won’t have regrets. Learn from experience, and move on—don’t spend time whining over spilled milk if things don’t go your way. Give everything your all and assume there will be times when things work out, and times when they don’t.

Second, advice I received early in my career turned out to be priceless and especially relevant in Washington. Always take the high road and do the right thing, even when tempted to take another path. It pays to be nice. You can be assertive and raise objections, but kindness, courtesy and respect go a long way in the world.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I love to do anything outdoors. I’m an avid cyclist and I have done a lot of hiking and traveling. I’ve recently taken an expedition to Antarctica, checked out monkeys in Panama, hiked in Colorado. We recently took a wonderful cycling and hiking trip through the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

In terms of my favorite locations, Antarctica was in some sense the most amazing because it is such a different world from anything I’ve experienced. Machu Picchu is also pretty mind-blowing. I can’t imagine how the Incas engineered a sophisticated community in such a beautiful, inaccessible place.

We are fortunate to be able to include our kids on many of our adventures; experiencing Antarctica with my two 20-something daughters was a phenomenal treat.

INTERVIEW

Watch this video of Kathy’s interview with Government Matters about digital services and modernizing the enterprise.



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