In response to a sharp spike in IT services and cybersecurity demands for a dispersed workforce, President Joe Biden made Federal technology modernization one of his early priorities, citing the need to upgrade Federal IT as “an urgent national security issue.”
The path forward is, however, unclear as President Biden’s proposed $9 billion funding boost for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) has been dropped from the House version of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan. Congress continues to work to enact the plan through the budget reconciliation process, with the fate of another $1.2 billion of Federal IT and cybersecurity-related funding still uncertain.
“Our work is cut out for us,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-VA., said when asked about next steps for investing in Federal IT modernization and security. “I think the pandemic has exposed the centrality of IT investments.”
“The pandemic has underscored, I think in a very dramatic way, how integral information technology is to the enterprise … and government services,” added Connolly. “When the pandemic began, the response we crafted in Congress for unemployment insurance, public health, and shoring up direct payments to Americans … were predicated on moving swiftly,” he said. “All of that assumes that you’ve got a functional, efficient IT system, and that was a false assumption.”
Eighty-five percent of Federal leaders agree the pandemic was a watershed moment for modernizing the Federal government, according to a recent survey. Notably, 42 percent say at least half of the IT they regularly use for work needs to be updated or replaced. Their recommendations to improve IT included: adopting cloud computing, expanding access to technologies, and improving the customer experience.
IT modernization includes improving both IT systems management (ITSM) and IT operations management (ITOM) systems.
Visibility Key to Preventing System Failure
Bob Osborn, Chief Technology Officer of Global Governments at ServiceNow, said many agencies are solely focused on improving ITSM, which improves service delivery; but are often neglecting ITOM, which improves visibility and contextual awareness. He says agencies need both systems to have a comprehensive understanding of the security profile, which is critical for a dispersed workforce.
He maintains that the key to avoiding system failure in the future is visibility of potential problems – for example, running out of storage space on a server or user authentication problems slowing a system down. Overcoming these challenges requires gaining a real-time understanding of where the workload is distributed across an enterprise.
This visibility allows Federal IT employees to foresee an outage and write automated responses ahead of time, laying the foundation for ITOM and avoiding issues before they impact the mission. The sooner all agencies adapt, the stronger Federal IT will be.
Strong Foundations Needed
Osborn explains deploying IT is like building a house; you need a solid foundation. A successful operations model serves as this foundation and involves aggregating real-time data that is appropriate and contextually relevant to a workflow and normalizing that data in a central repository.
“Agencies need to understand where workloads live and should live, from a data integrity, security, efficiency, and cost standpoint,” he said.
Osborn said that agencies with more mature IT operations and service management fared better during the pandemic.
“Agencies operating like businesses responded more quickly and supported the dispersed workforce more effectively,” he said. “Most importantly, they kept their services up and running more successfully than agencies who weren’t as mature.”
For example, the U.S. Department of State used a ServiceNow platform to scale 100,000 cloud-based workloads overnight. The platform also enabled the delivery of 10-12 ServiceNow-based apps that tracked every county’s COVID-19 requirements, in just a few weeks.
“That’s a huge success story because before, it would have taken us months to figure out the application requirements and then go back to development,” said Michael Mestrovich, Principal Deputy Chief Information Officer, Department of State. “But, with these platform-based services, we’re able to iterate on those almost instantaneously.”
Modernization gives agency leaders the ability to meet new, evolving, and unexpected requirements. More education is needed to ensure legislators and budget appropriators understand the link and importance of funding innovation, whether that is through the TMF or other programs.