The Philadelphia Convention Center was new territory to me, but the event taking place was familiar: The Executive Leadership Conference, ELC, the annual ACT/IAC extravaganza that draws the most innovative leaders in government and industry as both speakers and attendees.

This was my first ELC in several years. I’ve been to the conference when it was held in Hershey, Pa., and later, Williamsburg, Va. The content of the conference has evolved with the times, but its essential core mission seems unchanged.

The title of this year’s ELC was Imagine Nation and the sessions I attended reflected that. Innovation is a big priority in the U.S. federal government these days, as agencies strive to meet the goals of the President’s Management Agenda, to incorporate new technologies into their operations and to improve the ways in which they interact with their constituencies.

Digital transformation is a truly monumental undertaking and agency leaders are always on the lookout for ideas on how to best divide the many tasks into manageable bites arranged in sensible order of priority. Defense Department CIO Dana Deasy, delivering an ELC keynote, described the problems DOD faces as “complex and mind-boggling.” That’s a description that certainly could apply equally well to many agencies in the civilian sector of the government.

The problems federal agencies face are even more difficult than those in the private sector, in part because the marks of success are not always clear or easy to measure. As Margaret Weichert, acting director at the Office of Personnel Management, put it in a keynote address: “[Profit and loss] isn’t our metric in government. It’s mission. How quickly can we get the power back on? How quickly can we get water and food to people in disaster zones?”

General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy, another speaker, cautioned that transformative change isn’t a short-term thing, nor does it come without some culture change. “We can’t simply will change into being. It’s got to be something we inculcate into the agency,” she said.

The event’s presenters offered their guidance with the recognition that the problems agencies are now trying to solve have been building for a long time. “It’s very important to realize that we didn’t get here overnight and were not going to get out of it overnight,” remarked Office of Management and Budget Deputy CIO Margie Graves.

All speakers recognized the complex and nuanced challenges agencies are facing. And so, reflective of these multi-sided challenges, the event featured concurrent sessions divided into four tracks: Business Innovation, Enterprise Resilience, Modernizing for Mission Success, and Workforce. These are all priority concerns for the federal government.

CGI Federal Senior Vice President Gregg Mossburg and Vice President Vera Ashworth each took part in a panel discussion. Gregg’s panel covered the value of cross-agency collaboration in meeting the goals of the President’s Management Agenda (read his post here), while Vera facilitated a conversation on the Technology Modernization Fund.

Finally, after three days packed full of content and networking opportunities, the last panel brought home the themes that had informed and developed during the event. A key takeaway: Digital transformation within federal agencies ultimately has to be about improving service delivery. “We know we need to be about the citizen,” said Maria Roat, Small Business Administration CIO.  Having the technological tools to enable that fulfillment of that priority is a huge advance, she added.

The event was well-attended, and even on the final day—when the attrition of early departures often adds up to a noticeable difference in crowd size—the attendees were still numerous and attentive.

For the federal government, the event is an encouraging sign that the drive for innovation has only increased in recent years. I plan to return to the ELC next year, ready for a new infusion of creative ideas and sharp insight. Will I see you there?

Until then, I invite you to read more insights from CGI’s recent blogs on the PMA and some new tools for agency IT departments, including the law that created the Technology Modernization Fund. Also learn more about CGI Unify360 in the federal government, our cloud and hybrid IT solution demonstrated by CGI Federal Vice President John Nemoto at the ELC’s TechKnow Showcase Modernization Hub.

About this author

Picture of Michael Hardy

Michael Hardy

Senior Consultant, CGI Federal

Michael serves as the Digital Communications Content Lead for CGI Federal. He spent three decades in journalism before joining CGI Federal at the start of 2018, including more than a decade covering the intersection of the federal government and technology as a reporter and editor ...

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