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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Technology’s central nervous system needs attention now

Just as the central nervous system enables the human body to operate efficiently, a highly functioning telecommunications network is essential to organizations storing and transmitting data as well as running mission-critical applications.

This analogy may seem fanciful, but it is apt. The telecommunications network often is taken for granted; it almost never gets the same attention as IT “hot topics” like cloud computing, augmented reality, big data, artificial intelligence, blockchain or autonomous vehicles.  Yet none of these technologies can work without passing data over the central nervous system of technology – the telecommunications network.

The 2017 Report to the President on Federal IT Modernization provided several recommendations for agencies “to build a more modern and secure architecture for federal IT systems.”  It called for using the General Services Administration’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract to “implement the strategy to achieve the goals of consolidating and standardizing network and security service acquisitions, to take full advantage of economies of scale, reduce burden, and dramatically improve technical development and operations.”

Many agencies are attempting to follow the report’s modernization recommendations, but, according to GSA, progress is extremely slow. As of today, 99% of agency networks are still on legacy telecommunication contracts (Networx, WITS 3, LSAs) and are significantly behind on upgrading the central nervous systems of their IT operations.

Imagine what government could do if agencies transformed their networks with higher bandwidth, low-latency, software-controlled dynamic solutions using Ethernet, 5G wireless or optical networks that feature advanced security services and allow secure access to agency data via direct connections to the cloud. 

With these next-generation networks, adaptive traffic control systems could ease congestion and  improve transit in cities; remotely-directed surgery could save warfighter lives; high-definition aerial imaging could efficiently and accurately monitor borders and disaster sites; and improved sensor technology and internet-of-things applications could enhance emergency warning systems. Every mission-critical application in the future will rely on distributed network resources, their costs and performance optimized with software-defined wide-area networking, software-defined networking and network function virtualization. The cloud, as it moves data, storage and processing closer to the user, will enable even lower latency solutions for virtual and augmented reality.

Unless agencies take advantage of modern services, like those within the EIS contract, and future-proof their networks, their missions will become paralyzed and government and citizens will suffer.  It’s time agencies stop taking the network for granted and make modernizing telecommunications a top priority.

About the Author

James R. Soltys is a senior fellow, federal civilian solutions, at Noblis.

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