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How Federal IT is Damaging Employee Productivity

Agency IT is failing at a basic level for most federal employees.

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The purpose of Information Technology (IT) is to make it easier for employees to do their jobs in an easier and more productive manner. IT is supposed to be a major enabler of the agency’s mission. But agency IT and applications are failing at this most basic level for a majority of federal employees. 

That’s according to a new survey just published by the Government Business Council. An incredible 90 percent of survey respondents felt that their productivity was negatively impacted by application performance issues. The survey also reported that 67 percent of federal employees reported feeling frustrated by IT applications at least every few days, and 59 percent said their agency was either slow to respond to IT performance issues, or is totally unable to do so.

These findings have serious implications for the federal workforce. How can the IT and applications of the U.S. Government—the largest single purchaser of IT services in the world—be failing its employees so frequently?

To understand why this is happening, you need the ability to truly see and decipher exactly how federal applications are performing. Most of them are struggling to adopt to the current transition government IT is going through, and the hybrid environments that are resulting.

When I use the word hybrid, I’m not just speaking of hybrid cloud deployments (although those are becoming more common.) I’m talking about a whole new breed of applications, native cloud applications often developed in the cloud. Then these applications are placed in an agency’s production environment.

However, to perform properly these applications need to make calls to legacy government databases, often multiple ones. That’s what I mean by hybrid, since in a sense these applications are part cloud, part legacy. And that is what is degrading and preventing these applications from performing as they should.

This was the one of the main issues behind the unfortunately famous government IT project that was Healthcare.gov. The issue was that the all new system running in a private cloud could not function without integration into existing legacy government databases. To process a claim, multiple validations and eligibility determinations had to be processed by accessing databases located at the IRS and HHS, among others. Some of these interactions were at fault, and without full visibility into all the multiple application dependencies the problems could not be readily identified and repaired.

Native cloud applications for government have to seamlessly access legacy databases to function properly. This requirement is often overlooked or underestimated during the development process. And another obstacle to seamless access is the growing proliferation of government mobile devices. Legacy performance monitoring tools don’t do mobile, and this will become a growing IT blind spot if not addressed by agencies.

Greater performance visibility is required fast because the current government IT environment won’t be changing anytime soon. Government IT will be in this hybrid, part cloud part legacy scenario for the foreseeable future. It’s simply not possible from a budgetary perspective to “fork lift” all legacy databases and infrastructure into the cloud, even if there was the desire to do so. What’s needed is better application performance visibility to ensure that applications are handling the additional layers of complexity of the current hybrid environment.

A great example of this challenge going on right now all the IT buildup to the Census 2020. The Commerce Department—parent agency of the Census Bureau—tried to adopt hand-held devices for population tabulation for the 2010 Census, without much success. This time, the agency MUST be able to accommodate a myriad of handheld devices connecting back to government databases via different commercial networks, 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi. It’s a big challenge that the agency started working on in 2013.

Agencies need better application visibility so they can address performance issues resulting from real-world agency IT dependencies. Having an end-to-end view of how applications perform across a hybrid government environment will enable agencies to deliver better IT performance to employees—and achieve their missions of better services to citizens.

To learn more, download the survey report, "Fed IT Applications: Assessing Government’s Core Drivers," from Government Business Council and Riverbed.

This content is made possible by our sponsor. The editorial staff of Government Executive was not involved in its preparation.