Federal IT trends: the remote workforce, automation, and emerging technologies become ubiquitous
This year will be a year full of transition for the federal government. While there will be many significant changes for federal agencies during the year, it is very likely that IT modernization will remain a top priority for all agency CIOs. The Obama administration’s push for IT modernization gives us hints as to the priority it will hold under the Biden administration, with a focus on accountability and innovation, enabled by significant infusion of commercial technologies that are delivered securely.
As these plans become more concrete over the coming weeks and months, we expect certain trends will be top of mind for agency leaders throughout the next year.
Remote work and the technology needed
Despite the good news about COVID-19 vaccines, many federal agencies and employees will continue working off-site through at least the first part of the year. As we have seen in the private sector, the approach and methods of performing work are likely to adapt to the new normal. What that means long-term for federal agencies is still to be determined, but agencies must be prepared to continue enabling a secure and effective remote work environment for their employees.
For one, this means providing and enabling employees with the necessary tools and technologies to successfully do their job from their home offices in a secure manner. For example, at Maximus, most of our work shifted to a remote work environment in 2020, thanks to the enablement of more than 15,000 secure, cloud-enabled desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) for user endpoint access. We foresaw the enablement of a remote workforce, and the pandemic has expedited this change. Like all industries, we expect that government will also continue to embrace remote working as a part of normal operations.
Secondly, the shift to remote work will place an added emphasis on security and work supervision. Though security has always been a top priority for the federal government, the distributed work locations will impact the current approach. The lessons learned from this period will serve the government well moving forward. It also necessitates a culture shift as supervisors and managers need to find effective ways and tools to stay engaged and provide necessary guidance and support to their staff.
Automation to keep pace with demand
Another aspect of COVID-19 that will not fade is the increased need for citizen-centric government services. Whether that’s directly related to the immediate need to address challenges associated with COVID-19, including contact tracing or vaccine distribution, or secondarily with other COVID-19 related government programs and services, such as the CARES Act, we have seen agencies inundated with citizen service demands.
The technology to keep pace with this demand exists through intelligent automation leveraging robotic process automation (RPA), virtual assistants, and artificial intelligence (AI). In my experience, intelligent automation tools have been extraordinarily beneficial to agency programs, enabling them to shift human experts to focus on high value, customer engagement services while leaving the mundane and repetitive tasks to automation. Look for agencies to invest and adopt these technologies to help the workforce keep up with the demand while effectively delivering world-class service to our nation’s constituents.
Emerging technologies take the lead
Needless to say, the technology landscape across the federal government has changed dramatically over the past few presidential administrations. In fact, one of the few initiatives that continued under the last administration was a push to use more emerging technologies.
As they say, “necessity is the mother of invention” and with the rising demand for the government to be on par with commercial and retail firms in terms of service delivery, I predict we’ll see federal agencies further embrace emerging technologies and find innovative ways to leverage them to address core mission objectives on a scale so far unseen.
An interesting aspect to watch is the notion of Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS), which has gained momentum in the private sector over the past several years. These models are very impactful, especially as these cloud-enabled services are secured using FedRAMP-compliant standards to address security and risk. As agencies look to address their mission requirements with a fully secured and cost-effective adoption of cloud technology services, I expect FedRAMP-authorized solutions will continue to serve as a catalyst.
The dual drivers of COVID-19 (and hopefully, post-COVID-19) and a new administration will give agencies the opportunity to investigate and implement more emerging technologies, particularly as budgets are further constrained.
2020 was a year unlike any we have seen in most of our lifetimes. This year we will likely see (and benefit from) some of the changes and challenges we encountered and addressed during the previous year. Government has shown that its modernization efforts will reap rewards, and the past year has served to help shape them going forward. As we saw and supported with many of our clients, the last year helped expedite the transition from a traditional operational model to a remote work environment, enabled by both proven and emerging technologies.