The Department of State was already moving toward accelerated IT modernization in 2019, but the sudden onset of the coronavirus pandemic hastened those efforts and changed the department’s culture in the process, the agency’s CIO said this week.

“Because of the crisis and the need to get people back to work, we didn’t spend a lot of time debating,” said Stuart McGuigan, the CIO at the Department of State. “What we did is we quickly developed a backlog of all the things we needed to fix or change to enable people to get access to the systems they needed to do their work from home.”

Moving to cloud services last year – combined with centralizing identity and access management and rigorously enforcing two-factor authentication for remote access – helped the department quickly transition during the pandemic, said McGuigan during a July 14 online event hosted by FedInsider and Government Matters.

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“In the span of three months, we probably advanced the state of IT modernization to a degree that normally would have taken up to four or five years,” said the department’s Principal Deputy CIO Michael Mestrovich, in a MeriTalk CIO Crossroads interview earlier this year.

McGuigan, who is also the assistant-secretary level head of the department’s Bureau of Information Resource Management, explained a number of other benefits of the pandemic-hastened IT transition.

“We found that we could deliver capabilities on practically a daily basis, securely, safely, and iteratively,” he said.

For example, the department now has thousands of people operating on Microsoft Teams, said McGuigan – an important step for what he called “a very decentralized organization by design.”

“One of the things that has come out of this is, by acting collectively and developing the right kinds of enterprise capabilities, we can advantage each bureau individually,” McGuigan said. “We’re emerging from this a really technically enabled, fully collaborative department.”

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Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.