The new President’s Management Agenda solidified the administration’s focus on IT modernization.

In the 54-page agenda, released last week, the White House laid out its roadmap for improving the Federal government. Central to its plans? Modernizing the government’s IT infrastructure.

More broadly, the administration is looking to improve customer experience, help agencies better deliver on their missions, and reduce costs to taxpayers. To achieve these goals, the White House identified three drivers of transformation–IT modernization; data, accountability, and transparency; and a workforce for the 21st century.

After examining the President’s Management Agenda (PMA), MeriTalk turned to leading private sector experts for their thoughts on the White House’s goals and strategies.

John Landwehr is vice president and chief technology officer of the public sector at Adobe. (Photo: LinkedIn)

To put it simply, industry leaders are feeling positive and hopeful that this increased focus on IT modernization means the Federal government will get the technology overhaul it so desperately needs.

“The PMA is part of a growing ecosystem of agency tools to help facilitate IT modernization, advance cybersecurity and data protection, and drive the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the Federal government through improved customer service,” explained John Landwehr, vice president and chief technology officer of the public sector at Adobe.

Dave Mader, chief strategy officer for the civilian sector for Deloitte and former controller of the Office of Management and Budget under the Obama administration, was glad to see the PMA approach to IT modernization from a bi-partisan angle.

Dave Mader is chief strategy officer for the civilian sector for Deloitte. (Photo: Deloitte)

“I think the administration did a good job,” Mader said. “I looked at the content of the PMA, and, what was interesting, and very encouraging, is that the new administration is building on a lot of the activity that we worked on in the Obama administration. Looking back over the Obama administration and the George W. Bush administration, I see a very positive trend where new administrations are actually picking up and building on what the prior administration did.”

Where Does the PMA Fit In?

As Landwehr alluded to, the PMA is just one tool in the Federal government’s modernization toolbox. The PMA, and an increased focus on modernization from the new administration, can amplify ongoing initiatives elsewhere in the Federal government.

“The PMA does not stand alone but is supported by the MGT Act, the ideas encompassed in the White House IT modernization report, the GSA centers of excellence, and efforts underway at USDA to drive an expansive approach to improved government management,” Landwehr said. “This is a coordinated approach that we expect will achieve real results.”

Steve Harris is a senior vice president of Dell EMC Federal. (Photo: Dell EMC)

Steve Harris, senior vice president of Dell EMC Federal, agrees that coordination is key–but so is keeping an eye on budgets.

“The agenda looks at efforts that can help put its goals into action, including MGT and the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF),” Harris said. However, Harris said agency CIOs must realize that money set aside for modernization in MGT pales in comparison to the Federal government’s looming $7 billion in technical debt. “Agencies will need to remain strategic in how they use these funds and their other IT dollars to ensure the initiative’s goals are met. Long-term IT plans are vital.”

Private Sector is Happy to Help

Modernizing Federal technology isn’t something agencies can do alone. Rather, Federal leaders will need to work with their private sector counterparts to design, implement, and deploy cutting-edge solutions.

“For the past two years, the private sector has fully embraced the priorities of IT modernization–software asset management, FITARA implementation, and more recently, the need to better leverage technology to provide a 21st-century digital experience and better customer service,” Landwehr said. “Commercial technology companies that interact with customers every day see the impact technology has made and are now working to bring that same type of experience to government.”

Jonathan Alboum, chief technology officer, public sector, Veritas and former CIO at USDA, agrees that the private sector can help Feds reach their modernization goals.

“I think the private sector is becoming keenly focused on the protection, management, and even the visibility of data in the cloud, as more organizations are migrating data from on-premises to multi-cloud environments,” Alboum explained. “There’s tremendous opportunity to reap value in the data in our Federal systems, but there also needs to be more awareness into the visibility of that data, as data volumes are expected to grow rapidly, exacerbating current challenges.”

Harris has his eyes trained on the cloud, but says government needs to work with industry to deploy the right solution.

“Three steps are essential to IT modernization, including investing in cloud-ready infrastructure, automating wherever possible, and working with industry to move effectively to newer, faster models of operation,” Harris said. “A hybrid cloud operating model will provide agencies with the most efficient, flexible and secure environment to help them accomplish and protect their missions. As agencies take these steps, it will remain necessary to think about the best solution for each application and workload and keep the long-term IT plan in mind.”

Putting Data to Work

The Federal government possesses massive amounts of data. However, it isn’t always able to put that data to work.

Alboum believes that strategies laid out in the PMA, in combination with other ongoing Federal initiatives, will help Federal leaders leverage data effectively.

“By leveraging their own data and utilizing approaches like Technology Business Management (TBM), CIOs can get to the bottom of where they are spending their money, which is at the heart of FITARA,” said Alboum. “Then, they can use this knowledge to rationalize their spending to prioritize modernization and security initiatives related to MGT and the Cyber EO.”

Advice for the Federal Data Strategy

The PMA laid out four strategies that the Trump administration will include in its Federal Data Strategy: enterprise data governance; access, use, and augmentation; decision-making and accountability; and commercialization, innovation, and public use. Across the board, industry leaders feel that the data strategy is headed in the right direction, though they did have a few suggestions.

“A critical aspect of a government-wide data strategy is a strong focus on mission delivery and enhancing the citizen experience,” Landwehr said. “One addition I would make to the data ideas proposed in the PMA is around data security, particularly securing data at the document level. In the past, government has focused much of its time and funding on perimeter security, but securing documents is the last line of defense once a hacker has gotten inside an agency’s network. More time and attention should be paid to data security, as highlighted in policy documents such as OMB Circular A-130.”

In his advice, Alboum focused on data visibility as the path to data security.

“I would add the words ‘data visibility, data protection and data compliance’ to the strategy,” Alboum said. “The reality is that very few organizations understand where all of their data resides, from spreadsheets to on-premise data centers to the multi-cloud. Without proper planning and the right skill sets, agencies will face a lack of data visibility, complicated migration paths that frequently result in cloud lock-in, and a mistaken perception that because data is in the cloud, it does not need to be protected. Government agencies also need to ensure that they meet all compliance requirements. The government needs to ensure that it isn’t trading one set of problems for another in the name of IT modernization.”

Mader believes that the White House is focusing on the right concepts in the Federal Data Strategy, but stresses that implementation is key and must be handled correctly.

“The key is going to be finding those one or two areas of the data strategy that they could actually drive horizontally across the Federal government,” Mader said. “The government is huge and we can’t afford to boil the ocean. The administration needs to focus on a couple of key areas, prove the concept of how the strategy will work, then, over time, you drive it across the rest of the government.”

While the PMA is hot off the presses, the White House’s increased focus on IT modernization, as well as recent funding for MGT’s revolving capital fund, are raising hopes that modernization plans will cross the chasm from talk to walk.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.