Which kind of legacy are federal CIOs leaving behind?

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As the CIO at a federal agency, you strive to protect the integrity and security of data on your networks and systems, meet compliance and regulatory requirements, and keep your IT networks and systems operating smoothly.

These tasks are necessary and important to your enterprise. But are they enough to truly lead? Have you thought about the legacy you will leave behind for those who come after you?

Casey Coleman

Today, people not only want to engage with their government online, they expect to do so. Anything less is unacceptable.

Today’s citizens don’t want to wait in line at agency offices. They don’t want to make a phone call. They want to communicate, get information and interact, and even help their government to do its job — on demand, online, and using their mobile devices.

These expectations are not going to go away, but will only evolve as new technologies emerge, changing the scope of what is possible. Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, virtual and augmented reality: On the technological landscape of tomorrow, where will your agency stand? Out front, leading the way — or running behind?

Choose your legacy

The word “legacy” has taken on a double meaning in the tech world. Defined by Merriam-Webster as a gift or bequest left for others’ benefit, it now refers, also, to an organization’s existing IT systems—which, like a new car, lose value almost as soon as they are driven off the lot. In this context, “legacy” means “aged,” even “antiquated.”

As the executive in charge of these systems, which type of “legacy” will you leave behind? A dynamic agency or department leading the way in public service, or an organization struggling with behind-the-times equipment and software unable to properly fulfill its mission?

Many federal CIOs risk the latter. According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report, agencies and departments across the U.S. government use IT systems more than 30 years old, with antiquated and even obsolete hardware and software. Some systems are as old as 50 years.

What is more, many of these agencies have no strategy in place for modernizing these systems.

Clearly, these agencies are not serving their constituents as they want, need and expect.

Of course, as technology evolves at a breathtaking pace, it is not surprising that so many have fallen behind. Chances are, most want to modernize but don’t know where to start, or how.

Recipes for success

For inspiration, let’s consider a couple of success stories.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has implemented a “Bridges to Opportunity” program that uses digital technology to serve more than 2 million farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural producers.

The program collects information on topics from organic farming to pest management provided by hundreds of local, state, federal, and non-governmental partnering organizations, and places it in the cloud for agriculturalists to access online.

With more than 2,200 field offices, “Bridges” also connects producers with grants, loans, and other assistance so they can invest in and grow their operations. These field offices serve to ensure that agricultural producers have access to the services they need and support to help them succeed.

Coordinating information, resources, and opportunities from a plethora of sources — and keeping all this information up-to-date — has proved, in the past, a logistical nightmare. But by using the cloud as a clearinghouse, “Bridges to Opportunity” has enabled the USDA to take customer service to the next level, helping this important sector of our economy to thrive. What a great legacy for rural America.

The General Services Administration has improved the way it does business internally by shifting legacy applications to the cloud, including email and collaboration sites, to give employees on-demand access to these capabilities.

Developing apps on the cloud means the technology is always state-of-the-art, and enabling on-demand access speeds up collaboration.

So far, the agency has built more than 100 apps in the cloud, and continually adds new ones to its offerings. By taking advantage of the cloud’s agility and scalability, the agency has reduced its delivery costs more than 90 percent and its time to deliver by 75 percent. What’s stopping you from modernizing?

Using the cloud enables a relatively quick and painless development of any capabilities, apps, or services your agency needs, with updates in real time so you are well prepared for whatever comes next: the Internet of Things, drones, driverless cars, artificial intelligence/machine learning, or something else. In a recent study, a plurality of government leaders reported their organization already leverages, or plans on leveraging, cloud technologies in the coming year.

These emerging technologies and others promise to disrupt paradigms for how federal agencies work, and how citizens engage with them, again and again.

What is more, the cloud’s “future-proof” platform allows your teams to try out technologies and pilot new solutions at minimal risk and cost — modernizing your systems without having to replace them. Continual, automated updates and patches free you of having to even think about these routine tasks, empowering your agency or department employees to stay focused on their missions.

Isn’t that the legacy you had in mind when you entered the public sector?

The very reason many agency workers hold their jobs — serving the nation and its citizens, and taking on big challenges—means something much different than it did even a few years ago. It will certainly mean something very different tomorrow.

Modernizing your agency with a shift to a future-proof cloud platform means you can focus on making your mark: on bestowing on your agency and your public the best kind of legacy — one not mired in the past, but moving forward, into the future.

This article was sponsored by Salesforce.

Read more about steps government agencies can take to modernize their IT systems to improve citizen services.

Casey Coleman leads Salesforce’s Global Government Solutions business. Previously, as CIO at the U.S. General Services Administrations, she successfully drove the integration of GSA’s infrastructure operations into a single program and led the first federal migration to a cloud-based email and collaboration platform. Look for more of her blogs here.

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Casey Coleman, Federal CIO, Salesforce, SalesforceITMod, Sponsored Content