Why 2017 will shape the federal IT landscape for years

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It’s the question that everyone in and around Washington has been asking since Election Day – what will happen in 2017 as the Trump Administration begins implementing policy?

The answer is especially pertinent to the federal government’s IT landscape, which has undergone significant evolution over the past eight years. However, despite the push to modernization, there are clear signs that the government’s technology infrastructure is not where it needs to be yet.

One thing that seems certain, and is signaled by Trump’s Cabinet nominations, is that there will be a drive to adopt business principles of delivering on schedule and under budget on projects in government.

In October, a new report found that some agencies still spend an astounding 90 percent of their IT budget on maintaining legacy systems. During the first week of December, the third round of scorecard results of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) revealed that no agency had yet to receive an ‘A’ grade.

“We are seeing progress but it’s definitely not enough,” Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, chairman of House Oversight’s IT Subcommittee, told FedScoop in an interview. “We’re still hearing of situations in which folks involved in the digital infrastructure, or protecting it, think that going into the cloud introduces security concerns rather than alleviating security concerns.”

Despite those results, it is impossible to deny the momentum building within federal agencies to develop a better IT infrastructure and create an IT landscape that keeps up with mission-critical operations and the needs of citizens alike.

As we look ahead to 2017, here are three trends worth tracking as the federal government’s IT modernization push cranks into high gear and the new administration drives efficiencies.

1. Automation will drive the improvement of user experience

If you could point to one area of concern where federal technology trails behind the private sector, you would point at automation. Our new world of technology has exposed Americans to automation in every aspect of their daily lives, whether that’s in the workplace or interacting as a consumer.

Unfortunately, that same level of automation is not found within the federal government.

Over the next year, more agencies will continue the push to automation, particularly to alleviate the workload placed on federal employees and to drive down costs associated with resources required to do manual processes. While private sector employees have a majority of daily tasks automated, federal employees are left to manually complete a majority of tasks, which limits their ability to tackle other challenges within their agency and keeps overall costs high.

Job functions must evolve as the federal government continues to compete with the private sector for coveted tech professionals. In 2017, look for more agencies to move key workloads to the cloud and develop more cloud-based applications that can automate tasks. Cloud-based platforms can uncover a huge potential for improved productivity and reduced costs.

Likewise, these cloud-based platforms can enable agencies to further automate services for citizens. In 2016, the quality of citizen engagement was a hot topic and that will continue through the next year.

Citizens have come to expect a certain level of responsiveness and speed when interacting as consumers with companies, and they want that same experience when dealing with the federal government. Look for agencies that frequently deal with citizens – the IRS, for example – to make improving citizen experience a top priority in 2017.

2. IT policies will increase the use of innovative technology or a big legislative push will boost fed IT modernization efforts

The federal government’s path to modernization will be supported by critical IT policies that will guide the way. We have already seen the impact of FITARA, as agencies have been forced to answer for their shortcomings and develop a clear vision for a way forward. While the FITARA scores have currently been used as a “scarlet letter” of sorts for agencies, there will be a shift in 2017, and these scores will be used more to encourage modernization, instead of shaming agencies. When an integrated platform is utilized to gather the required data to fill out the FITARA scorecard, agencies will be able to leverage the other capabilities of those platforms to not just comply with the FITARA requirements, but to use that information to proactively manage the agency.

Similarly, FedRAMP has provided a way for agencies to adopt commercial cloud offerings in a more secure, streamlined manner. Over the next year, I expect the FedRAMP program to be updated and improved, to provide vendors a clearer path to certification and a better way to engage with agencies beginning or continuing their journey cloud. Additionally, I expect language to increase the agility of government in acquiring new and emerging technologies that test the limits of current FedRAMP controls.

There is a third policy – the Modernizing Government Technology Act – that would provide funding to agencies for modernization, but has stalled in Congress for several months due, in large part, to the $9 billion cost that Congressional Budget Office applied to the bill. Unfortunately, the CBO costing model does not account for savings or cost reductions that result from the modernization. I would suspect that including the savings would dramatically reduce that number and make the bill more palatable. Despite the current inactivity, the new administration has put infrastructure spending at the top of their wish list and many in congress support technology infrastructure as critical infrastructure. I expect funding to become available for IT modernization in 2017 – the questions that remain are when it will arrive and for how much.

3. DevOps and SecOps will be established in federal IT

For the past several years, much has been written about the growing role of DevOps in the federal IT. Much of the discussion has focused on developing the right culture, as federal agencies were simply not designed to implement DevOps.

It has taken time, but we are starting to see the results from progressive agencies that have successfully implemented DevOps. These agencies are ahead of the curve in federal IT, and their successes are illustrated by better programs and better results on their FITARA scores. I believe we can safely say that DevOps will be more prevalent in federal IT, just in time to be joined by SecOps.

As with DevOps, SecOps is about breaking down barriers between departments – in this case, between IT security and IT operations. Just as DevOps bubbled up in the commercial sector before moving its way to federal, the same path is being taken by SecOps. Cybersecurity will always be a top priority, and in 2017, I expect SecOps to play a huge role in improving our country’s cybersecurity posture.

This is going to be a very interesting time for the public sector. Will we finally see the Federal IT landscape be on par with the private sector? Honestly, I don’t think we are going to be at that point yet. However, if 2017 is going to be a transformative year for Fed IT, I think we may be one step closer to that reality.

Bob Osborn, federal CTO of ServiceNow, joined the the enterprise IT cloud company in 2014 after an extensive career in the federal government. He served as the Deputy CIO of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Prior to that, he was the CIO and Associate Administrator for Information Management of the National Nuclear Security Administration and served as the deputy CIO of the U.S. Transportation Command within the Department of Defense.

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