Is there a magic recipe of products and services that can allow the Federal government to deliver for customers to realize modernization at scale? According to Ann Dunkin, the chief information officer (CIO) for the Department of Energy, the answer’s no, there’s no magic recipe. However, it turns out that delivering modernization at scale is about shifting the culture.

“We all know it’s not about tools, technology, or process although those things do have to change. The hard part is the culture,” Dunkin said during a virtual summit hosted by GovLoop on Feb 15.

Modernization in the Federal government is development, operating methodologies, new hiring authorities, and new procurement methods, but all these elements are driven and enabled by culture change.

“Technology changes fast, our user needs to change fast, and we need to shift to looking at the results to be results-oriented, and then a path to get there. The whole concept is about adopting that approach, adopting our requirements, adopting what we do along the way to ensure that in fact, we’re able to deliver the results we need,” Dunkin said.

The Federal government can’t get innovative solutions with the culture that designed, delivered, and supported the legacy applications, she explained.

“You can’t get to a new place by thinking the old way. And if your organization structure and ways of working don’t change, you will not be successful in an agile environment and deliver modernization at scale,” the CIO said.

In addition, Dunkin explained that Federal agencies need to create a learning organization where employees can learn new things, grow, work together, and develop new skills. Federal organizations also need to encourage employees to take informed ‘smart’ risks, Dunkin explained.

“We can get employees moving faster, making smart decisions, learning from their from their mistakes, and moving forward in an agile environment,” she said.

In addition, Dunkin explained that part of that cultural shift is continued investment into the Federal workforce.

“Sometimes we worry if we invest a lot of money in someone, they’re going to leave in three to five years. But the alternative is worse. What if we don’t invest in them and they stay? Then what we have is a workforce without the skills to meet the mission. And that’s awful. If we have not grown and developed our workforce, there’s no one to blame but ourselves for having a workforce that doesn’t meet our needs,” Dunkin said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.