Humor me, if you will, and come along on a journey into the past. We’re not going far—just to 2010, when the Office of Management and Budget’s Chief Information Officer launched the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.
Its goals were simple: Shrink the federal data center footprint, eliminate duplication and reduce costs. Agency CIOs inventoried their server and storage assets, defined the scale and size of existing data centers and IT infrastructure assets and established consolidation plans, leveraging cloud and virtualization to reduce hardware needs. The focus: convergence.
Now, a little over a decade later, the IT footprint has evolved from a point of convergence to unprecedented divergence. Agency architectures include not only data centers but also private clouds and virtual data centers, multiple cloud services providers, a plethora of platform-based cloud services and a slew of software-as-a-service solutions—with more cloud solutions coming to market every day. Cloud-native systems must work together with legacy apps residing on mainframes, on desktop computers and client/server architectures and the web.
To that mélange, add game-changing paradigms, such as intelligent automation for IT operations, and the need to analyze data across the agency for insights.
Oh, and by the way, you must secure all of this (at a zero trust level). In 2010, Government IT operations leaders could not have foreseen what their ecosystems would look like today.
The future didn't come easy
Over the past decade, IT operations leaders have needed to evolve their thinking and ways of operating to adapt to this complex hybrid reality. However, the
organizational transition has not been easy. Some IT operations leaders have struggled to adapt to multi-cloud and hybrid operations, which carry exponentially greater levels of complexity compared to operating the data center.
Early in this century, some IT operations leaders explained their role as keeping operations moving cost effectively while reducing risk. While those requirements still exist, today’s IT operations customers also demand increased speed to capabilities, automation and agile approaches, e-commerce-like user experience, the ability of IT to automatically scale, and access to expertise on the wide variety of emerging technologies they could leverage to meet the mission.
What’s ahead, then, for the government IT operations leader? I suggest these four areas as focus for federal IT operations leaders looking to stay ahead of the curve:
- Become an accelerator. Balance the need to control risk within IT operations with the ever-increasing need for new capabilities to support the mission. The COVID pandemic forced increased flexibility and agility within IT, and the IT operations leader of the future should embrace the lesson that you can accomplish quite a bit in a short time when urgent necessity drives the action. Mission leaders across your offices and lines of business need partners in accelerating digital transformation to meet mission needs; address that by clearly articulating the hybrid services your IT organization can provide. Offer the most robust services possible to help steer offices and programs away from DIY approaches. Supported by strong governance, IT operations leaders can proactively collaborate with agency components to achieve mission results.
- Become an integrator. The IT operations leader of the future integrates this ever-growing catalog of services into an ecosystem of enablement for the enterprise. Moving forward, leaders must establish frameworks to operate both the ever-growing catalog of cloud-based offerings and traditional data center solutions as an integrated set of enterprise capability. This requires IT operations to maintain strong levels of control over management, security and costs regardless of workload location. Tools traditionally used within the data center to manage these elements may not translate to management of the hybrid cloud environment. Therefore, IT leaders must look from the outside in – starting with cloud-based tooling first – to establish models for effective control over agency IT assets and endpoints.
- Become a security partner. IT operations leaders have always collaborated with agency chief information security officers to secure agency IT assets. However, as the IT ecosystem and threats to it have become more complex, the need for close coordination between IT operations and security has never been greater. With the addition of endpoints and the proliferation of software-as-a-service offerings, protecting the extended network becomes a top priority. As threats, such as ransomware, become more effective, their perpetrators more brazen and targeting larger organizations, IT operations leaders must help their whole agencies move more quickly to put in place processes and technologies to reduce the risk.
- Become a more mission-oriented partner. Today’s IT operations leaders must become enablers of innovation tailored to mission needs. In CGI’s 2021 Voice of Our Clients Survey, we examined the insights from those digital leaders who are achieving the highest level of results from their digital transformation strategies. Our analysis shows that 60% of those highest-achieving digital leaders are better at aligning IT and business priorities compared to their peers. Today’s IT operations leaders – and those who hope to lead in the future – must understand the business of IT and align their services to the needs of the mission.
The IT operations organization must take on the customer service mantel, collaborating with the mission at all phases of the lifecycle – from budgeting and planning to architecture through implementation, deployment and operation of the systems required to meet mission needs. At the same time, IT operations leaders must be stewards of federal funds, working with mission leaders to operate in a way that controls costs across the agency. In our hybrid reality, this means taking an enterprise-wide view of how we procure and operate cloud-based solutions to control unnecessary spend on consumption and licenses.
Now is an exciting, though complicated, time to be in federal IT. Daily life for an IT operations leader has changed dramatically from the strategic and tactical focus of 2010. As our IT ecosystems become more complex, IT leaders must rapidly adapt.
Many days, you may feel as if you want to join Marty McFly in his DeLorean in “Back to the Future,” traveling to a simpler time. However, now is the time to leap forward and become the best accelerator, integrator, securer and partner you can be, enabling IT to meet mission challenges head-on with confidence.
For more on the role of the federal CIO today, read, “You’re a new federal CIO. Now what?” by my colleague John B. Owens II.