A recent survey of 200 federal IT executives on IT modernization, sponsored by Unisys and conducted by research company Market Connections, found that the cybersecurity implications of IT modernization were never far from respondents’ minds. While nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents rated cybersecurity as the top priority for agency modernization projects over the next year, a similar percentage (59 percent) reported that they believe their agencies’ IT modernization efforts increased their security challenges.
These responses may seem somewhat contradictory until we also take into consideration that 53 percent also reported difficulties related to the ability of their IT staffs to support the necessary transitions associated with their agencies’ IT modernization goals.
Taken together, these three data points tell us that federal leaders view modernization efforts as key to improving security but that the lack of staff with the right kind of skill sets is hampering them – thereby exacerbating security concerns.
The complexity of today’s environments and systems makes it harder than ever to manage modernization without the necessary skill sets and staff. Consequently, agencies must embark on a journey as part of their digital modernization efforts – one that requires a cultural transformation to obtain the right skills related to technology, governance and management.
This cultural transformation represents one of the greatest overall challenges facing federal IT leaders: determining the appropriate mix of skill sets at the appropriate time – involving both in-house staff and contractor support – to meet expectations from their agencies’ business leaders. Meeting this challenge will require greater investment in the government and the contractor communities to enhance the skill sets.
Fortunately, Congress is responding with funding initiatives that can help. The Modernizing Government Technology Act, better known as the MGT Act, demonstrates that the Hill is focused on IT modernization and recognizes that it is too expensive to maintain legacy systems. When it comes to the appropriations, the move to create a centralized IT fund administered by the General Services Administration and the establishment of working capital funds within agencies will provide greater flexibility in planning for agencies’ longer-term modernization efforts, aiding them in the difficult task of managing the costs associated with modernization.
Having worked with agencies undergoing modernization efforts, we know there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But there are best practices that fit across agency missions. The following actions can help agencies realize the benefits of modernization: