IT modernization efforts increase cybersecurity challenges, survey says

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The fervent push to update the federal government’s IT has tech professionals facing more cybersecurity challenges on their networks, according to a new report.

A survey of 200 federal IT executives — conducted by Unisys Corporation and research company Market Connections — found that 59 percent of respondents felt IT modernization efforts have increased the cybersecurity challenges they face.

Of those respondents, 53 percent cited the difficulty IT staff have supporting numerous transitions as their leading concern, while 42 percent cited increased compliance reporting as a key hurdle.

The survey, which was presented Wednesday at the IT Modernization Conference @930gov, highlights the challenges facing IT professionals, said Unisys Federal president Venkatapathi “PV” Puvvada.

“I think that not having enough skill sets and not having the right kind of skill sets is hampering them,” he said. “So there is a journey they have to go through as part of the digital transformation. It requires a cultural transformation to get the right skills, both the technical, governance, management and cultural skills.”

Puvvada added: “How do you — in your overall environment, between government, contractor staff and the other service providers that are supporting you — get that right skill set at the right time with the expectations from the business side or the mission side and expectation that they don’t have a whole lot of time? How you do that would be one call-out of the challenges that people have.”

Despite the challenges, 38 percent of respondents said that the security enhancements were the greatest benefit of the IT modernization efforts for agencies, followed by 35 percent who identified the potential of boosting operational efficiency as the greatest asset. So while the challenge of updating IT systems remains, once they are in place, the benefits were starting to be realized.

The survey sheds a light on the challenges agencies face in meeting increased security, technology performance and talent management requirements in the light of continued budget tightening.

Alongside funding, having skilled technical staff and aligning projects with an agency’s mission were two critical factors that respondents ranked as important in carrying out modernization efforts.

There are efforts in the works that could ease both of those tensions: the Modernizing Government Technology Act currently in the Senate, which proposed a Tech Modernization Fund housed within the General Services Administration, and the anticipated Office of Management and Budget agency reorganization plans.

Puvvada said the funding initiatives could provide agencies more flexibility in developing their modernization strategies.

“I think the MGT Act would be very helpful for a couple things,” he said. “It’s going demonstrate that [Capitol] Hill is focused on the modernization of the IT systems. It’s just not tenable to maintain legacy systems; it’s just too expensive. When it comes to the appropriations, when agencies go forward, even outside the rotational working capital funds, I think there’s going to be more investments and that’s positive.”

The GSA tech fund, Puvvada said, “is going to allow for a more creative way for the agencies to plan for their longer-term modernization, as opposed to traditionally you would have to [manage] your own costs and pay for the efficiency to get the modernization, which is very hard to sequence. I think that’s very positive.”

One thing that Puvvada said surprised him about the survey was that 33 percent of respondents cited unanticipated cloud adoption challenges as a reason for increased IT security challenges, which was compounded by 41 percent of respondents who graded their agency’s modernization efforts with an A or B.

“What that says is that people are not planning on doing the change management that’s required,” he said. “We’ve been on that cloud journey for a number of years, and we’re still not there — that’s the surprising part.”

Seeing those numbers, Puvvada said that it shows that agencies still have work to do to align their IT management goals and demonstrating the benefits. Once those strategies are aligned, agencies can quickly learn the benefits, he said.

 

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Cloud, MGT Act, Unisys
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