In times of great peril, we can also witness great change. The past year has
been one of those times.
The COVID-19 pandemic served as both a sprint and a stress test for the U.S.
federal government. Agencies hastened their adoption of digital
capabilities, empowering people to collaborate virtually and pivot quickly.
Within weeks, leaders met unprecedented challenges. They reimagined their
mission and innovated to meet citizens’ needs, while expediting IT
modernization initiatives and shifting to completely new operating models.
People at all levels of government demonstrated speed, flexibility,
creativity, and collaboration, all of which are critical to innovation and
Accenture, in partnership with The Atlantic, recently
reported on how this
change happened — and how it can be a blueprint for future progress.
Because now, as we start to imagine a post-pandemic world, the question is:
Will the government be able to sustain its renewed spirit of agility and
In this revealing three-part series, we share success stories and diverse
perspectives from a range of government, industry, and academic leaders. We
also highlight three important learnings that emerged from our reporting:
We base these learnings on how we’ve witnessed agencies adapt over the past
year. What have we seen?
1. Agencies expedited the adoption of technology
for a more resilient workforce
U.S. federal leaders faced an onslaught of unforeseen challenges in 2020, as
COVID-19 necessitated rapid changes to the way government works and the way
it serves. But from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to
the Department of Health and Human Services, to the Department of Defense,
among many others, agencies rose to the occasion, innovating to successfully
deliver their mission in new ways. So, how did they do it?
The first article in our series, "How
the pandemic tested government resilience," takes a look at how
federal agencies reinvented themselves. Many transformed from organizations
with a traditional, in-person culture to more flexible, creative, and
collaborative organizations. They realized the power of investing in both
infrastructure and public-private partnerships to help scale their IT
"Before COVID-19," says Ira Entis, managing director of growth and strategy
at Accenture Federal Services, "many agencies were already moving to the
cloud and investing in artificial intelligence, data analytics, and other
modern technologies. We’re only just starting to scratch the surface of how
these technologies make a difference in our lives—and innovation is key to
tapping that potential."
2. Agencies placed a stronger emphasis on customer
Admittedly, some agencies were more prepared than others in the early days of
COVID-19. And those organizations that were ready to pivot shared similar
practices, including a focus on people, agile approaches, and a growth
"Agencies that had already started investing in IT modernization,
particularly in collaborative tools to help cultivate innovation in their
culture—like cloud, agile delivery methodologies, and DevSecOps—those were
the ones that could respond and react most quickly," says Christina Bone,
senior innovation architect at Accenture Federal Services. "But it takes
more than the right technologies to really inspire the art of what’s
In our second article, "Three agency
innovate with purpose," we share lessons learned from agencies that
innovated and scaled quickly using human-centric design, rapid prototyping,
and a culture of collaboration. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention partnered with Microsoft, for example, to launch an AI-powered
chatbot, the Coronavirus Self-Checker, within 48 hours. And because the
chatbot was created with cloud-based software, other healthcare providers
across the United States were able to create their own versions. This was a
powerful example of how to successfully blend the best of technology and
"The consistent path to success is a relentless focus on human experience,"
says Tim Irvine, managing director at Accenture Federal Services and lead
for the Accenture Federal Digital
Studio. "Think about the people who are being affected by an
existing condition and do the work to understand how they’re being affected.
Once you understand their pains, you have an opportunity to address their
articulated–and unarticulated–needs and desires. This not only simplifies
complexity but brings unexpected delight in the process."
3. Federal health agencies emphasized data-driven,
virtual-first operating models
As people sheltered in place during the pandemic, making their homes into
workplaces and classrooms, more doctors than ever before suddenly made house
calls too. Virtually, of course. Telehealth visits surged, as did online
prescription refills, and health app adoption, particularly among veterans.
In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs reached 79 percent more veterans
through virtual care in 2020 than it did in 2019.
"We know that virtual healthcare works,"
says Ron Moody, M.D., chief medical officer at Accenture Federal Services.
"Now we need to take what we’ve learned during the current crisis and
transform healthcare into a virtual-first system.
In our third article, "Why
healthcare won’t go back to the way it was," we examine how the
pandemic accelerated an uptake of telehealth and digital care services in
the United States. And now that more patients and providers have experienced
virtual health services, they understand its value. Looking ahead, it’s
clear that continuous innovation, analytics, and public-private sector
collaboration will be necessary to making more digital-first services
"There has been unprecedented collaboration in the wake of COVID-19 on
numerous fronts," agrees Jill Olmstead, who leads Accenture Federal
Services’ management consulting practice for federal health agencies.
"Researchers are collaborating like never before to create vaccines and
therapeutics, providers are partnering with technology companies to develop
their virtual care capability, and patients are sharing their data in
multiple ways. This combination of technology and human ingenuity is amazing
– it’s just the beginning of enduring changes to the health ecosystem."
Clearly, COVID-19 has catalyzed a shift in the mindset of both government
employees and citizens. Now that people have experienced new ways of doing
things—such as working remotely, communicating with AI chatbots, and
providing and receiving healthcare services from home, just to list a
few—they don’t want to go back to the way things were.
We’re now at a pivotal crossroads, with countless opportunities to make
lasting change. Government has both the resources and the capacity to scale
digital initiatives, especially when it works in collaboration with leading
innovators in the private sector. As data and new technologies become more
embedded into the digital fabric of our lives, government can create lasting
reforms that will transform society for the better.