OPINION

The future of government technology and the role of the IT department

New innovations for government are beginning to move at an accelerating pace. The next five to ten years will be a critical renaissance period for federal IT, transforming the way agencies use IT to fulfill their missions.

This will happen in spite of the fact that many federal agencies continue to face ongoing budget challenges. The transformation of government IT in the coming years will allow agencies to be more efficient and effective, while still being very responsible with public dollars.

We're approaching a day in the not too distant future where almost all government IT will be provided by less than a dozen federal services centers that will have the flexibility to quickly and efficiently provide scalable applications as needed to their agency customers. Moving to this model will fundamentally change the role of the IT personnel within each customer agency. 

Usually this transformation starts gradually, inside the federal agency. Agencies often look to consolidate what I like to call “shadow IT” first. Shadow IT is the hardware and other IT resources that have dispersed out amongst specific offices and business units within the agency. Sometimes there are valid reasons for this to occur, but agencies should look to centralize IT resources internally for the most efficient policy governance and data security.

Once this process is complete, or even while it’s still going on, a light bulb goes off in the IT executive's head. More and more federal IT leaders are realizing their job is not to run and maintain infrastructure, it's to deliver IT services to internal agency customers and to the American people.

So IT leaders are increasingly looking at leveraging shared IT services. Currently there are two approaches available for federal agencies looking to tap into IT resources already in place.

The first approach is to go with a certified vendor for IT services, for example the FedRAMP program. Or a commercial vendor could be tapped for non-critical applications.

Another option is to go to another agency providing shared services. These centers can deliver, everything from email management to Infrastructure-as-a-Service, (IaaS), for example offerings from the Interior Department and USDA. This option is attractive because the service providers have already invested the capital to launch these service centers. For an individual agency to replicate the resources themselves would be a wasteful and duplicative capital outlay, and the agency would lose the opportunity to move costs from CapEx to OpEx.

Increasingly the federal IT attitude is becoming, “If it's there, proven and less expensive, why not use it?” Plus, the more agencies that move onto a shared service platform, the greater potential exists to lower the cost of service for all users. That's truly a revolutionary idea for government IT!

And once the federal agency crosses this bridge, the role of its internal IT team changes. That's because most agencies begin the journey by assuming internal roles won't change much. They set out to acquire more efficient and economical compute, network and storage IT resources and assume their internal teams will do the rest. However, they quickly realize the shared services approach provides not just raw infrastructure, but can ALSO provide email, financial services, file storage with access control, certified security protocols and many other valuable services.

As agencies move away static IT to more flexible clouds, the role of their internal IT teams changes as well.  Rigidly siloed areas of expertise in specific categories or proprietary technologies are starting to give way to a more generalist, broker type role. Agency IT staff have the ability to be freed from 50+ hours per week of “keeping the lights on,” and can focus more on how to secure the best possible services for their agencies.

Being IT experts, they can look to secure reliable service from shared service centers through SLAs. They can evaluate and choose proven DR and COOP services, and be rightly positioned to avoid things like vendor lock-in. The role of the internal IT team is moving towards being the buyer, the evaluator, not the provider themselves.

This transformation – of IT itself and the role of the internal IT team – bodes well for government agencies moving forward. We're living in an increasingly digitized world, and federal IT systems have to evolve. By leveraging the shared services model and freeing their internal IT teams to play a more consultative role, federal agencies will position themselves for dramatic improvements in computing performance and cost efficiencies.

About the Author

Mel Stockwell is deputy chief cloud strategist for VMware's Public Sector division.

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