How can federal chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) get the funds they need to allocate to innovation? By first establishing a solid base on which those innovation investments can build upon.
In today’s volatile financial environment, with technology ever advancing, CIOs and CTOs are forced to make tough decisions about where to invest. Sometimes, it has to feel like a zero-sum slog, as they are obliged to turn down appealing projects with attractive cost/benefit ratios when the budget or skillset just isn’t available, or when compliance requirements take precedence.
As a result, many agency CIOs are shifting their focus to setting a firm foundation on which to modernize before making additional investments. That involves gaining a deeper understand of their current environment and capabilities, carefully assessing the feasibility and effectiveness of any changes, and taking steps to mitigate the degree of risk involved.
There are numerous ways CIOs can deliver significant benefits and create a solid foundation for modernizing by improving what they already have. Here are six key steps toward that goal:
Step 1: Review work-from-home decisions made in a hurry
The start of the pandemic found most organizations poorly prepared for a rapid, wholesale shift to remote work. Agency managers often made work-from-home accommodations on the fly, with employees sometimes making their own decisions about devices and connectivity, while IT expenses rose.
Now agencies should review those decisions and ensure that employees’ remote experience effectively aligns with their in-office experience—in particular, reviewing the devices and provisioning those employees’ use in the interest of compliance, cybersecurity and cost management.
Step 2: Maximize your cloud investment
Are you getting the cloud benefits you expected when you first adopted it? There may be multiple reasons for cloud investments to be disappointing in the long term.
Have you not moved many workloads to the cloud? If it’s a small percentage, and if it’s mainly your easier, less complex workloads, moving more presents a real cost reduction opportunity. Conversely, do you have forgotten workloads in the cloud that are driving up your costs but delivering no value? Eliminate them.
Have you adopted automated deployment to the cloud? That reduces the risk of your cloud deployments and accelerates their utility. It lets your teams do comprehensive testing and give feedback as soon as you deploy your workloads to testing and production environments.
If your cloud provider offers disaster recovery (DR), are you still paying for on-prem disaster recovery? Besides potentially lowering your capital expense, cloud DR solutions are flexible enough to quickly accommodate your changing needs, can deliver a faster recovery process and offer regular testing for compliance purposes. Above all, it frees up skilled employees to focus on other pursuits.
Have you begun re-platforming to enable your legacy systems to work in the cloud? If changing the core architecture to modernize those systems is too risky, re-platforming is an answer. However, it requires that leaders overcome employee resistance to significant changes by effectively communicating their value, and by conducting organizational change management activities to maximize adoption of new and enhanced applications.
Step 3: Reduce redundancies
Redundant and unused software licenses remain a stubborn and costly problem for federal agencies, even for those with a long-standing license management program. In today’s digital environment, expanding remote work, greater use of mobile devices and increased shifts to the cloud magnify the challenge.
Those complicating factors make it imperative for O&M to reassess the situation using automation for discovering and inventorying licenses.
Step 4: Encourage employee adoption of new tools
Have employees been slow to adopt a new technology tool that you acquired to produce significant benefits? It can create serious problems if employees continue using outdated familiar tools rather than those prescribed. Productivity and accuracy are obvious problems, but even more worrisome are the potential for errors, non-compliance, or cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
If you have this problem in your agency, continue encouraging adoption, and be sure to adopt best practices. Query employees to see if they fully understand the overall benefits of the new technology, and design your communications accordingly. Make sure those who have different ways of learning and varied levels of technology intuition get the kind of training that works for them. Seek out enthusiastic internal champions of the new technology—especially peers of the non-users—to evangelize the benefits they have achieved.
Step 5: Open up data silos
Data silos—isolated sets of data that don’t integrate or interoperate with other systems—are usually the result of different groups creating data stores for their own specialized purposes. They now hinder executives’ decision-making and employees’ collaboration across the agency, and there can be quality problems if different silos handle data differently. It takes too long and too many resources for employees to find the data they need, check it for accuracy, and then, share it with others in the organization. Important opportunities and threats may go undetected across the barriers.
Consider integrating data silos with data integration and gateway tools and centralizing data in the cloud so that your agencies’ decision makers have full access to data that is relevant to their responsibilities. In the future, as you adopt emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, data silos will impede your ability to take full advantage of them. Break them down now.
Step 6: Reduce technical debt
Organizations create technical debt when they choose fast solutions over thorough and comprehensive ones; the debt is the implied cost of future upgrades or replacements to pay for today’s expediency.
No matter the original rationale for incurring it, technical debt complicates further development, diverts from the mission, and frequently creates cybersecurity risk. Agencies need to create an ongoing process for paying it down, step-by-step.
Solving it starts with quantifying it—learning where the problems exist (in mission-critical systems or more negligible systems), whether fixing them will be highly beneficial or of little import, understanding the level of risk involved in solving each instance of technical debt, etc.
Quantifying technical debt inevitably leads to sound decisions about where to dedicate efforts to pay it down. CIOs/CTOs can see where rewards are the greatest, how the debt affects the mission, whether the employee/citizen experience is involved and the extent to which technical debt endangers security or compliance.
CGI’s trusted relationships with numerous federal agencies have allowed us to assist CIOs with all of these endeavors, creating a firm foundation for their future investments. We established the first agile state implementation at several agencies, enabling them to deliver higher quality outputs faster, transformational value, and innovation—no matter the scale or the complexity of the challenge. We have trained agency employees around the world on how to optimize their organizations’ technical debt with a modern view of architectural design that complements the speed and flexibility of agile development and have helped CIOs find the balance between long-term predictability and quick business value.
We have also helped CIOs cost-effectively leverage their current investments in cloud platforms, cloud-native services and cloud-based collaboration platforms so that they can allocate the savings they achieve to innovation.
If you would like further information on how CGI can assist your innovation and O&M pursuits, contact Martin Heinrich.