To rapidly innovate in their digital transformation journeys, Federal experts recommend agencies invest in their staff and provide them with a “safe space” to experiment and explore different technologies.


During today’s ATARC Digital Transformation event, Gulam Shakir, the acting chief technology officer and director of enterprise data management at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), explained that investing in staff is key to a successful digital transformation journey.


“What I have seen is to have and put you in an opportunity to rapidly innovate your digital capability is to invest in your staff, invest in your people,” Shakir said. “Give them the opportunity to train and try to give them a safe place to experiment, to explore different technologies.” 


“While that happens is you create a sense of ownership and increase the capability to take chances and risk in a safe manner. And then when the opportunity comes along, when there is a need, you have a task, you have a workforce that’s ready to take on the challenge immediately so that they can help you on the innovation journey,” he added.


By investing in people and training, Shakir said agencies could provide a safe and secure method for innovation and experimentation.


Chezian Sivagnanam, the chief enterprise architect at the National Science Foundation (NSF), agreed with Shakir and said that agencies need to bring their staff along with them in their digital transformation journeys, not just the technology.


“As we go through your digital transformation, do not forget your people, your staff, your workforce, you know, find a way to take them alongside,” Sivagnanam said. “Whatever you innovated, if your staff or your customers are not adapting, the whole innovation is waste of effort. So, make sure you invest in them.”


Sivagnanam said NSF set up a “community of practice” a few years ago called “innovation management,” which met on a voluntary basis to brainstorm the agency’s “unsolvable problems and come up with ideas to solve them.”


By setting up this community of practice, Sivagnanam said NSF was inspired to launch Innovation Labs, a cloud-based platform that provides a safe space to innovate and brainstorm emerging technologies.


Sivagnanam said this is “a secret formula” NSF uses that can also bring in “change champions” from the business side as well. However, he did note that it may not be the formula for every agency.


“This is a secret formula that we use, not ‘this formula would work for every agency,'” he said. “We are kind of small. We are using this formula, but again… do not forget to take your staff alongside with you as you innovate. That is very key to your success.”

Read More About
More Topics
Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.