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How to talk about IT modernization

Technology can offer big returns on government investment -- but only if agencies can invest in new applications. For agencies looking to justify IT modernization, the research and market intelligence firm IDC has developed a four-stage taxonomy that aims to help stakeholders understand the full scope of digital transformation efforts.

The taxonomy follows a hierarchical structure that begins with the digital mission, then lists the strategic priorities that support that mission, the programs that satisfy the priorities and, finally,  the funded projects or use cases that will be implemented under those programs.

With this framework, agencies can fill in the higher levels and use the framework to inform how problems can be solved.

The mission of efficient and effective government, for example, is supported by public safety and justice priorities. Use cases might be reducing cyber crime, improving disaster response or streamlining criminal justice proceedings. Big data and analytics can be key technologies in support of those programs.

But agencies aren’t always able to take advantage of the data they have.

“We have so much data -- we’re just not drawing action out of it,” said Alan Webber, the research director at IDC Government Insights. Federal agencies already do a good job with collecting data, he said. The problem is with making that data more actionable. That is where better analytics come in.

At the General Services Administration, insights gleaned from led to the idea of automating more services on government websites. According to Justin Herman, who leads GSA’s Emerging Citizen Technology Program Office, many visitors to federal websites were asking the same questions as were being fielded by call centers or social media managers. Answers to those similar, simple questions can be automated with artificial intelligence, he said, freeing up agency staff to focus on more complicated questions.

While analytics provide ways to make data actionable, cloud technology gives federal agencies the ability to focus more on mission-related decisions.

“There are so many advantages to cloud,” Webber said. “It gets something out of government’s hands that they don’t really need to do -- they don’t need to manage servers and infrastructure like that. The agility that cloud gives them when compared to a traditional model is just immense.”

Webber said that switching to cloud and other subscription-based services will also help agencies lower their operations and maintenance costs, which the Government Accountability Office has estimated can consume as much as 75 percent of an agency’s IT investments.

IDC has similar taxonomies for other sectors, but government is unique, Webber said. It doesn’t have competition or a bottom line and it can’t choose its customers.

A private-sector business that wants to keep its customers and maintain its market share  invests in technology to keep up with its competition. Apple can charge top dollar for an iPhone because it doesn’t have to supply phones to everyone. Government, on the other hand, must answer everyone's 311 call, Webber said.

So the driver for government IT modernization is often increased effectiveness and efficiency. “It is a constant drum beat” coming from agency CIOs, he said.

”So how do you justify improving the efficiency and effectiveness versus the cost?” The justification, he said, is lowering the operations and maintenance costs.

“What’s pushing them to change is they’ve got to recover that budget,” he said.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.


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