In brief

In brief

  • Federal agencies demonstrated unprecedented agility in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerating technology modernization efforts by years.
  • Agencies must now harness and sustain this mindset shift to build a digital-first approach for the future.
  • Forward-thinking agencies will use technology to not just supplement, but fully reimagine the mission.
  • The Federal Technology Vision identifies five trends to help agencies lead in a post-pandemic world.

If federal agency leaders learned anything last year when the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world on its ear, it was this: Technology is vital to the mission.

Of course, many understood this before 2020, as they witnessed cloud computing, artificial intelligence, automation, and other advancements rapidly re-modeling the world around us. But the almost overnight transformation that we all experienced in the spring of 2020 brought home just how integral technology is to our lives, our businesses, our ability to get things done, and our ability to be resilient in the face of crises.

As Dana Deasy, Defense Department CIO, told reporters in April 2020, “We are truly in unprecedented times in our nation. The national emergency due to the coronavirus, COVID-19, global pandemic has no doubt brought new changes to the ways Americans go about their daily jobs. Specifically, the way we work has changed dramatically within the last month.”

No wonder, then, that swift and sweeping technology modernization initiatives took center stage as the federal government adopted a wartime footing in response to the pandemic. By late April 2020, federal agencies had spent $1.1 billion on IT goods and services to address challenges brought on by COVID-19, according to one analysis. Priorities were hardware and network modernization to support newly remote workforces, cloud services, tele-health capabilities, data management and analytics, cybersecurity, and other needs.

Authors Chris Copeland and Kyle Michl introduce Accenture’s Federal Technology Vision 2021.

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The Small Business Administration, for example, spent $393 million on IT in March and April, much of it on data analysis services needed to help make loan determinations as part of the CARES Act small business relief program. But it wasn’t just SBA that had an immediate need to quickly interpret and analyze what was going on to meet its mission: COVID-19 touched off a 40 percent spike in big data spending across the entire government from 2019 to 2020. The Veterans Affairs Department, for example, invested in a Palantir Gotham subscription to track and analyze COVID-19 outbreak areas, supply chain capacity, hospital inventory, social service utilization and lab diagnostics. The Health and Human Services Department and the National Institutes of Health needed COVID-19 data storage and backup storage. And the Treasury Department required tools for procurement reporting and to track COVID-19 spending.


of federal executives report the COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented stress test for their organizations.


of federal executives report the pace of digital transformation for their organization is accelerating.

Government leaders also proved that, with technology, federal agencies can undertake big change rapidly when they need to. In short order, federal agencies got most of their employees working remotely and installed IT infrastructures to support that. The Defense Department, for example, rolled out secured network capacity and cloud-accessible work environments to roughly 4 million military and civilian personnel around the world within weeks. This included the deployment of a DoD-version of Microsoft Teams and other Office 365 tools, dubbed the Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) environment, thereby making chat, video, and document collaboration available on personal and mobile devices. In a single day in early April, the department activated more than 250,000 CVR accounts, DoD’s Deasy said, adding, “This is the largest rollout ever implemented in this short amount of time.”

“We're at war. It's a different type of war, but it's war nonetheless,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradford Shwedo, CIO of the Joint Staff. “To give you a sense of the urgency, the previous pace [for rolling out remote work collaboration tools and virtual private networks] was once two years from planning to implementation — now, these upgrades are happening and completing in days to weeks.”

Even as they were transitioning to remote operations, federal agencies had to simultaneously manage the unfolding crisis and execute their day-to-day missions. Congress at this time had passed trillions of dollars in COVID relief assistance, of which federal agencies received more than $82 billion for program administration and oversight. And they had to spend this extraordinary amount of funds quickly and smartly to save lives and stem economic hemorrhaging. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, increased the number of telehealth video appointments using its VA Video Connect service from roughly 10,000 appointments a week in February 2020 to 120,000 three months later due to COVID-19.


of federal executives report that their organization is innovating with an urgency and call to action this year.

In short, federal agencies across government accomplished things during the pandemic emergency that many federal leaders previously would have said were impossible. Now we know that things once viewed as impossible are indeed possible. Through the challenging crucible of this pandemic, federal agencies have emerged with a new mindset about themselves. They have shown to themselves and the nation that they can adjust quickly to challenging circumstances, work differently when they need to, and bring technology to bear to solve big challenges quickly.

The question now becomes: How pervasive and impactful will this shift in mindset be? Today, federal government leaders have a golden opportunity to harness this mindset shift and declare that this is how we will operate in the future. This will be critical because the rate of change that’s been accelerating these past two decades and that hit a fever pitch during the pandemic shows no sign of letting up, even as we prepare for a post-COVID world.


of federal executives believe capturing tomorrow’s market will require their organization to define it.

Leadership demands technology leadership

To carry the lessons of 2020 forward, federal agencies need to drum the word impossible out of their vocabularies and work together to solve big challenges. They must take the lessons of the past year to heart and hardwire their organizations and mindsets to be ready and adaptable for continuous change and resilient to whatever comes their way. This requires federal agencies to build the right innovation environments and cultures and remove remaining organizational barriers that divide technology from the mission so they are both moving forward as one.

This is a challenge that demands a new kind of leadership. Agency leaders can no longer afford to be merely business or mission leaders — they must also be technology leaders, fully versed on how technology intersects with and advances their mission ambitions. A digital-first approach must be fostered by the entire C-suite and manifested across all areas of the organization. This is how agencies can pivot from being reactive to proactive to predictive, how they can thrive in an era of unprecedented variability and complexity, and how they remove blind spots as they chart a bold course ahead.

The challenge ahead for federal leaders: Becoming masters of change at a moment of truth.

The challenge ahead also requires that leaders do better at leveraging the resources around them: employees, stakeholders, industry partners, vendors, and other agencies. To innovate, organizations need to expand the diversity of thought and experience they expose themselves to — that’s the only way to expand one’s vision of what’s possible.

Leaders don’t wait for a new normal, they build it

As the saying goes: The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Prioritizing technology is essential to ensuring the enterprise doesn’t fall behind. However, true leadership will emerge from the embrace of radically different mindsets and models.

The world has been beset by sweeping change and demands leadership that thinks boldly in response. Thriving in this moment will require ambitious leaders not content to rehabilitate what was, but who are willing to upend convention and wield their vision for the future. Leaders have spent decades building systems — workforces, supply chains, technology infrastructures, operating and business models — that were suitable for an era when change happened slowly and expectedly. But today, success will come to those with the audacity to reimagine it all.

In the last year, enterprises were forced to confront deep-seated assumptions about how fast the organization can pivot, and where or how work gets done. Before the pandemic, if you asked Defense Department executives how long it would take to deploy a new office collaboration platform across the department, few if any would have said it would be possible in less than a year. But we found out that with the right level of priority and leadership, anything is possible.

This journey of reinvention has only just begun. The pandemic radically accelerated changes that agencies knew were coming but didn’t expect to see so soon. While it will be tempting for agencies to retreat to what they know, 2020 brought the need for a different path forward into clear focus. If federal agencies continue to have a clear-eyed perspective and sharp focus on their expedited digital transformations, reimagining everything from their people, to data, architectures, and ecosystems, they can emerge as leaders.

The federal technology trends shaping the future of government

In our Federal Technology Vision 2021 report, we see how many federal agencies are beginning to imagine and build their digital future. They understand the importance of architecting for the future and recognizing that business and technology strategies are increasingly indistinguishable. Architecture has never mattered more — and the options available have never been so vast. But getting this piece right is critical, as the technology choices that agencies make today will determine their possibilities and constraints far into the future.

As leaders thread technology through all aspects of the business, the valuable troves of data generated are being used to build massive networks of intelligent digital twins. This mirrored world that these next-generation twins create is fueling change by unlocking the value of data and allowing enterprises to simulate, predict, and automate by seamlessly bridging the divide between digital and physical.

Government enterprises must also ensure their people are empowered to become drivers of change — an outcome achievable through technology democratization, which is making powerful technology capabilities accessible without the need for specialized skills. Many agencies are already igniting grassroots innovation by equipping all employees with the tools and skills to build technology solutions at the point of need.

And, as we’ve all seen, agencies are also redefining the workplace of today and tomorrow. The pandemic forced agencies to quickly shift from a “bring your own device” accommodation for their employees to a “bring your environment” approach in which employees are working from anywhere and everywhere. The single biggest workforce shift in living memory is positioning federal agencies to explore the benefits of a virtualized workforce and expand the boundaries of the enterprise.

Finally, the challenges and opportunities ahead are vast and agencies will not be able to tackle them alone. Multiparty systems — operating on the foundation of a shared digital ecosystem enabled by technologies such as blockchain — provide agencies entirely new models for how to address complex challenges that affect many stakeholders. From supply chains to digital ecosystems, the pandemic showed just how brittle globe-spanning relationships can be. By rebuilding these partnerships with technology at the center, enterprises are finding ways to adapt together.

A new future is on the horizon — one that’s different from what the world expected. As this future takes shape, there will be no room for enterprises that cling to the past. Will you watch the world change around you? Or be the one leading it? People are ready for something new and it’s time for enterprises to join them. Let there be change.

Federal IT trends overview

The Federal Technology Vision identifies five key trends that federal agencies must address to capitalize on this moment of truth over the next three years to lead in the post-pandemic world:

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A new era of government is dawning – one in which an agency’s technology architecture will be a critical factor in whether they succeed or fail in their mission responsibilities. But building and wielding the best technology stack for mission success means thinking about technology differently, and making business and technology strategies indistinguishable.

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Leaders are building intelligent digital twins to create living models of shipyards, jet fighters, supply chains, product lifecycles, and more. Bringing together data and intelligence to represent the physical world in a digital space will unlock new opportunities to operate, collaborate, and innovate.

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Powerful capabilities are now available to people across the agency enterprise, adding a grassroots layer to enterprises’ innovation strategies. Now every employee can be an innovator, optimizing their work, fixing pain points, and keeping the business in lockstep with new and changing needs.

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It’s time to transform remote work from an accommodation to an advantage by rethinking what the organization looks like and what it can achieve with a virtualized workforce model. Leaders must develop “bring your own environment” strategies, addressing the security ramifications of remote work, necessary cultural shifts, and the evolving purpose of physical office space.

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The demand for contact tracing, frictionless payments, and new ways of building trust brought into sharp focus what had been left undone with enterprises’ existing ecosystems. Multiparty systems enable agencies to employ the power of partnerships and trusted data to address increasingly complex challenges.

Why Federal Technology Vision

Technology is advancing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up — even for IT leaders!

But increasingly, we live in a world where every organizational leader needs to be a technologist because technology is driving the rapid transformations we see occurring all around us. Technology is so integral to mission success today that federal agency leaders no longer have the luxury to leave the technology to the IT folks. They need to spend time and energy understanding what technology is here, what’s coming around the corner, and what the impacts are.

The problem is that there is a lot of noise out there about technology, and it’s really hard to know where to focus. The Accenture Federal Technology Vision is our attempt to help federal leaders separate the noise from the signal by providing extensive research and real-world examples of what’s happening globally as well as within the federal sector around today’s technologies.

The Accenture Federal Technology Vision is not about technology — it’s about offering insights into what government and commercial leaders are doing in response to the major tech trends of the day and how are they leveraging technology to make their enterprises smarter, more agile and resilient, and more effective in addressing today’s complicated business and mission challenges.

Exploring Tech Vision

For over twenty years, the Accenture Technology Vison has identified the most important emerging technology trends impacting businesses, governments, and society over the next three years. What sets it apart is its focus on the underlying forces behind each trend as well as the frank advice it offers on how enterprises should respond. The Accenture Technology Vison is produced by Accenture Labs and Accenture Research with input from over one hundred Accenture leaders and more than two dozen external experts. It also incorporates the findings of a global survey of over 6,000 enterprise leaders.

This year’s global report, Leaders Wanted, examines how the world responded to the unprecedented stresses and challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. What we learned is that many enterprises are far more agile than they thought. Their challenge going forward is accelerating their digital transformation to meet the new expectations left in the pandemic’s wake.

The Accenture Federal Technology Vision 2021 applies these trends to the unique demands and challenges facing the U.S. federal government. It builds upon insight from more than 50 Accenture Federal Services experts as well as survey data from two hundred federal program, business and IT leaders.

Kyle Michl

Chief Innovation Officer – Accenture Federal Services

Christopher Copeland

Chief Technology Officer – Accenture Federal Services


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Get the essentials

The Accenture Federal Technology Vision 2021 builds upon unprecedented research to offer federal leaders direct insight into the five emerging technology trends most likely to transform and disrupt how agencies operate over the next three years.

The full report

60 minute read

Five trends for post-pandemic leadership

Read the entire Federal Technology Vision 2021 to explore the five trends and how they interact to set the technology agenda for the next three years.


Video interviews

Kyle Michl and Chris Copeland interview experts from Accenture’s Federal Technology Vision 2021 to discuss highlights from each trend.


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10 minute read

A SlideShare highlighting the full U.S. federal survey findings.

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