Let freedom and innovation ring
- By Adam Clater
- May 28, 2019
Driven by the consumerization of IT, agencies at every level of government are struggling to respond to the demands of a new generation of users for more open and flexible service delivery. Consumers want their agencies to deliver the same ease-of-use and on-demand responsiveness they have with their own devices and social media platforms.
As a result, those of us in government IT find ourselves tasked with meeting competing demands for greater efficiency, scalability and self-service, while simultaneously balancing modernization with optimization. Pressured by always tight budgets, agencies are nevertheless expected to drive the most value out of their present IT investments while planning for the new, more flexible, cloud-based infrastructure needed for the future -- and, increasingly, today.
This inherent conflict is changing the basic mission needs at every level of government IT: from CIOs charged with delivering services, developers challenged to create the applications needed and the IT staff expected to supply the infrastructure to make it happen. And though each level faces challenges, they all require the same things: speed and innovation.
Moving in the wrong direction
The time has come for agencies to evaluate their technology. Doing nothing is a false option. Agencies that refrain from taking control of their technology modernization may have to pay more to use outside resources to solve their problems. Moving forward, this attitude may eventually result in sidelining government IT from any meaningful role in achieving their agencies’ missions.
Unfortunately, this is the route that the majority of our government agencies appear to be taking. An analysis released in February, reveals that spending on legacy infrastructure and maintaining service delivery still commands the lion’s share of federal IT investment. More alarming is that while overall spending supporting the 7,653 IT investments in civilian agencies will grow approximately $1 billion to $88 billion over FY19, the analysis reveals that dollars spent on innovation will continue to shrink to what might be the lowest levels in decades.
This has not gone unnoticed. Federal agencies have been directed to prioritize modernization of their IT systems to fulfill their missions more effectively and enable national security. While the FY20 budget supports that effort -- increasing the percentage of investment allocated to IT modernization on programs enhancing federal IT and digital services, reducing cybersecurity risks and building a modern IT and cybersecurity workforce -- in many places, progress toward meeting these goals continues to be slow.
Freedom of choice vs. technical debt
So, what is the best way forward? First, agencies should avoid the trap of proprietary solutions that can lock them into a single cloud and limit future innovation. Although that may seem the easiest way for to accelerate modernization, it almost invariably leads to technical debt.
Cost-effective and long-term efficient modernization demands that agencies have the capability to build applications that can run in and across any cloud. Without that hybrid cloud capability, agencies may well end up in the same place they started. Today’s cloud market has the potential to be tomorrow’s technical debt.
Open source as an innovation driver
The open source community is an innovation driver. Indeed, without open source technologies, today’s digital and virtual universe of cloud, automation, mobile, OS and virtualized infrastructure would almost certainly not exist in its present state.
Open source technology offers the freedom of choice agencies need to effectively innovate their way out of their current challenges, incrementally and at their own pace.
Taking control of the future
Helping agencies accelerate modernization and ease innovation through open source technologies is the growing role our largest tech enterprises are playing in the open source community. Enterprise distribution of open source technologies carries with it the critical governmental certifications and accreditations that are extremely important to agencies -- and necessary for rapid deployment.
Perhaps most importantly, open source technology offers the tools to deliver on behalf of the agencies we serve. It provides the solution to our central challenge of needing to optimize and modernize our present IT infrastructure while investing in the innovation we so desperately need.
Adam Clater is the chief architect, North America Public Sector, Red Hat.