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The missing ingredient from federal IT: Simplicity

The 2019 U.S. Customer Experience Index ranked federal agencies last of 16 industries for service delivery and customer experience. This is due in part to agencies' heavy reliance on legacy networks, their resistance to change and their lack of the modern technologies needed to address these shortcomings. As a result, many agencies are poorly equipped to deal with current and future needs of users and operators.

To break this ineffective cycle, agency IT managers should focus on simplicity when they plan and design their networks for modernization. It makes sense from both architectural and operational standpoints. Systems designed for simplicity can reduce wasted operational resources, allowing agencies to focus their time and investment on mission-specific applications.

Although government  legacy networks are complex, there are two ways agencies can move toward simplicity.

The first is in the design of the network architecture or, rather, the design of the system itself, focusing on leveraging open, standards-based technologies, building uniformity and ubiquity across platforms as well as adhering to technology roadmaps that preserve flexibility to meet changing future demands. The second is in the network’s operation, which essentially is the design and deployment of a network that takes the lifecycle needs and experience of the operators into account. Designers must simplify and unify control, enable intent-based orchestration, automate common repeatable workflows and leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning developments so that the system can quickly and automatically respond to dynamic network and application challenges.

For example, in a military environment where facilities and networks have traditionally been relegated to “box-by-box” and “site-by-site” operations and management, simplifying these systems and treating them as an overall system rather than individual boxes would improve operational efficiency and better address user needs.

Unifying control and management and adopting open standards-based solutions for military locations can deliver more than 30% improvement in IT operations.  In addition, it yields an increase of more than 60% in application lifecycles from flexible infrastructures and automated workflows, enabling the IT organization to deliver new mission applications and tools to the warfighter.    

Currently, much of the work federal IT teams do is focused on maintaining the current infrastructure and making it compliant with requirements and protocols. However, pouring IT budgets into operation and maintenance of legacy systems can be problematic because no mission benefits are directly realized from these expenditures. By adopting a simplicity model, agencies can yield greater return on investment when allocating funds to projects that improve the end-user capabilities and experience.  

The complexity of legacy systems is arguably the biggest IT challenge in the federal space. As agencies increase digital transformation and modernization efforts, they need more than an incremental increase in scale or performance; they must plan to increase in simplicity as well. “Quick and easy” infrastructure upgrades that focus on incremental scale and performance improvements are typically short-lived and unable to keep pace with evolving user and application demands -- resulting in regular tech refreshes.

Modernization efforts that emphasize architectural and operational simplicity result in infrastructure that is more future-proof, providing agility, flexibility and efficiency in both operations and in service delivery and an improved end-user experience. Agencies must consider how to make their systems more agile and easier to manage, so they can adapt as the needs of the agency and their customers evolve. By adopting a simplicity-based approach to network modernization, agencies can more effectively and efficiently service the needs of their customers and users.

About the Author

Mike Loefflad is the systems engineering leader for the defense and intelligence business at Juniper Networks.

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