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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How to prepare for emerging technologies

Exciting new technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and the internet of things are dominating news cycles, but are they dominating federal IT environments? Maybe not.

According to the latest SolarWinds IT Trends Report, emerging technology may so far be more of a pain than a benefit. Public sector IT managers in North America, the U.K. and Germany said they believe they are currently ill-equipped to manage AI and blockchain with their current skillsets. Meanwhile, these same managers believe that they need more training on the cloud and hybrid IT, established technologies that we all seem to take for granted.

What’s going on here?

For many agencies, AI and blockchain remain fairly nascent technologies that are not yet considered essential. Also, there isn’t a great deal of industry expertise for these technologies, so it’s not as easy to hire an AI specialist as it is to bring on a network manager, for example. As a result, agencies aren’t heavily investing in AI training, and managers don’t have the time or inclination to teach themselves about the tools.

On the other hand, survey respondents said they expected that cloud and hybrid IT will be the most important technologies to learn about over the next three to five years. They also noted that developing skills to manage hybrid IT environments has been one of their top priorities over the past 12 months. This indicates the importance of the cloud and hybrid IT for their organizations, but the constant focus on learning also shows how rapidly these solutions continue to change and expand.

Managers want to learn, but it’s hard to do that when they’re also trying to migrate legacy applications to the cloud. The migration process takes time, and juggling new projects while also trying to “keep the lights on” will always be a challenge. Cloud migration projects leave precious little time for skills development.

Still, respondents listed “technology innovation” as their top career development goal over the next three to five years. How can they achieve this goal with so many obstacles seemingly in their way? There are several things that they, and their agencies, can do to help.

Leverage third-party contractors with specific expertise

Third-party contractors aren’t just for implementing technology roadmaps; they’re also excellent sources of knowledge. And while it may be hard to find full-time employees with the chops to deploy AI or blockchain, some government contractors have deep expertise in those areas.

What better way for an agency’s IT team to learn than from a skilled contractor working on-site? That contractor can share expertise, show the team how it’s done and equip agency staff with the knowledge necessary to build, implement and run their own solutions.

Through hands-on learning and training from subject matter experts, internal teams can absorb an enormous amount of valuable insight.

Encourage participation in user groups and online forums

There are a number of free government-centric user groups where IT managers can find answers to questions and hone their skills. Many vendors host get togethers in cities across the country, giving public-sector IT professionals the chance to learn from their peers and share experiences. They’re great resources for problem-solving and learning about new technologies.

There are also a number of online forums and communities that professionals can leverage. From technology-specific communities to internal government message boards, there’s a strong argument for interacting with like-minded individuals who are willing to help each other out. These tools can be incredibly valuable resources for daily skills building and knowledge sharing.

Attend trade shows and industry events

While certainly not free, trade shows and industry events can be exceptional resources for learning about what’s next. Everyone from less experienced employees to more seasoned professionals can benefit from sitting in on workshops, listening to presentations or simply wandering the show floor. There are a few great ones coming up this year, including Data-Driven Government and Blockchain Expo North America.

Although there’s a cost involved for attendance, trade shows provide organizations with the opportunity to kill many educational birds with one stone. Attendees can learn about the latest technologies and strategies, check out vendor showcases and come home a bit wiser about tools that are out now and those on the horizon. Agencies will need to allocate some of their budget to this exercise, but they can receive significant value in return.

Regardless of how it’s done, agencies and managers must invest in learning about emerging and evolving technologies because AI, blockchain and the cloud will impact the careers of public sector IT professionals for the next several years.

About the Author

Brandon Shopp is the vice president of product strategy at SolarWinds.

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