IT Modernization

Managers get the why, now they must figure out how.

It's clear that managers have embraced the need for modernization, which is the first step in technological advances that include changes like cloud computing. In a recent poll conducted by the Government Business Council, Government Executive's research arm, 71 percent of federal executive respondents noted the need for some or significant information technology modernization at their agencies. But many hurdles lie between acceptance and implementation of the Obama administration's aggressive modernization goals.

GBC research shows agency progress is mixed, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity for managers. The success of some agencies cranks up pressure on those that are lagging. But it also can ease the way for other agencies facing similar challenges.

Managers seem to understand that collaborating across agency lines can accelerate progress. When asked by GBC what is important to their agency's efforts to modernize IT management, the majority of respondents identified "understanding and sharing best practices." This beat out other perennial challenges such as streamlining the IT procurement process and adapting existing policies and governance.

It's not necessarily a manager's first instinct to reach out to the private sector to identify federal best practices. But as developers and users of many products agencies begin to deploy, industry partners can help point managers in the right direction.

Agencies "kind of get the technology and how it can help them; they're just not sure how directly to do it," says Tom Yarmas, chief cloud officer at NetApp U.S. Public Sector. "Best practices go a long way . . . it's working with partners and helping customers understand the environment and apply these [products and practices] directly. It's important to work with vendors and get those best practices documents but also work together as a partnership."

When it comes to modernization, fundamentals come first, says Nathan Coutinho, solutions manager for CDW. "You need to understand what your costs are; you need to have your processes in place, your people trained and ready to go from a skill perspective," he says. Agencies that have made the most progress focused first on IT governance, Coutinho says. Before managers can implement specific technology goals-migration to cloud computing, for example-they need policies in place to help the organization adapt.

But managers seem to need assistance. When asked what obstacles are hindering their agencies' transition to cloud computing, most federal executives told GBC a lack of training on the transition and on new systems was holding them back. This was a surprise to Bryan Klopack, GBC's director of research, who says survey respondents tend to identify insufficient funding and cultural resistance as their top challenges, regardless of the issue.

Yarmas says managers' concerns about training likely stem from a general lack of understanding about what it means to modernize or to migrate to the cloud. But federal executives are moving quickly along the learning curve, he says, and they are becoming more familiar with what their technology mandates mean in a practical sense.

And as more managers get on board, IT modernization should see some significant acceleration during the next year. "This is a transformation of the IT industry . . . and transformations are comprehensive and can be disruptive," says Daniel Kent, director of federal solutions and chief technology officer for Cisco Systems Federal. "It takes time, it takes money-it takes money to save money-and this has been fairly new. But it will be interesting to see where we are 12 months from now; I think it will move quickly."

Elizabeth Newell covered management, human resources and contracting at Government Executive for three years.

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