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September 27, 2018

Modernizing government technology is a lot like renovating a house: You can limit yourself to paint and trim; you can invest a little more to update kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures; or you can think deeply and fundamentally about your needs – now and in the future – and then renovate to meet those needs, moving walls and adding features to make the home truly work for you. 

All three approaches will change the appearance of the home. But only one will change the way you live.

It is the same with IT modernization. We can modernize to meet compliance requirements or for cost savings, and both are worthy objectives. But modernization presents a still greater opportunity: to drill down on our most vexing challenges and emerge with solutions that were simply not possible before.

Focusing on the art of the possible – and not just what’s plainly achievable –distinguishes strategic modernization from a house-flipper’s caulk-and-paint update.

To be sure, CIOs juggle numerous challenges, from budget pressures and compliance demands to changing requirements and short-term leadership objectives. These things increase uncertainty, shorten timelines and may temper a CIO’s aspirations.

Yet CIOs do not have to surrender their long-term vision.

The most successful and impactful modernization efforts increase efficiency and add capability. It need not be a binary choice. By approaching modernization as a savings-plus-capability equation, CIOs deliver value, rather than savings alone.

Value means enhancing mission performance and effectiveness. It’s better than just savings.

Take the classic data center problem, for example. Policy dictates agencies consolidate and reduce their data center footprint. Migrating to the cloud answers that demand – and when properly engineered, can save money in the bargain.

But the greater promise of cloud computing does not lie in this rent-vs.-own equation. Rather, it comes from the cloud’s underlying and mission-enhancing capabilities of data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, continuous integration and delivery, and more. These make cloud not just an enabling technology, but a transformational one.

Tapping that transformational potential, while at the same time achieving critical near-term cost and operational savings, delivers the best of both worlds.  

In our experience working with large-scale Federal agencies, successful modernization strategies share four things in common:

  • Centralized buying power to maximize savings
  • Centralized visibility to enable continuous improvement and efficiency
  • Centralized governance to ensure security, regulatory compliance and select cost-saving and best-practice enforcement
  • De-centralized operational control to enable and empower sub-agencies and system owners to manage and optimize their own affairs

Practically speaking, that means a centralized CIO shop can define the small, high-value and broadly applicable services it will deliver to its sub-agencies – without having to impose one-size-fits-all solutions on the individual sub-agencies. At the same time, the CIO can also offer optional services which may be of interest to some, but not all of its subordinate agencies.

This approach allows the CIO to establish a balance between central operational control, on the one hand, and governance and policy-making, on the other. It also empowers the CIO to explore not just lowest-common denominator services, but technologies with the greatest long-term transformational power – solutions with the potential to jump-start adoption of next-generation cloud services.

Ultimately, centralized delivery enhances centralized visibility. By anticipating future needs and including core enabling technologies among those available through centralized delivery, CIOs can develop the use cases and best-practices that will accelerate adoption throughout the organization. That affects not just the speed of adoption, but the overall pace of change.  

Let’s return to the home renovation metaphor. A generation ago, wiring a house for Ethernet enabled you to form a home network. Today, however, everything is wireless. We aren’t looking for better Ethernet any longer. We want gigabit wireless that can reach every corner of our home and support everything from our smart TV to thermostats, lightbulbs and who knows what may be coming in the future.

Modernization is about enabling your agency’s future. Think strategically – and expansively. Someday, your agency will thank you.