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3 Challenges to Government IT Modernization

It’s said that the best-laid plans often go awry. While perhaps a bit pessimistic, this quote does connect with one of the main obstacles to government modernization efforts: the need to plan for unforeseeable futures.

Joseph Ronzio, Deputy Chief Health Technology Officer at the Veterans Affairs Department (VA), discussed this challenge, among others, in the opening keynote of Govloop’s recent Gov’s IT Evolution Virtual Summit. Here is a recap of three main challenges to government modernization efforts that Ronzio described, and the responsibilities that lie at the heart of each.

  1. Responsibility to mission requirements

While the specifics of each agency’s mission may differ, they are alike in that they all require the reliable and secure storage of data and records that, in many cases, will outlive those responsible for storing them. Harkening to the work of his own agency, Ronzio used the example of a young soldier who becomes injured at 19 and then requires a lifetime of care and record-keeping by the VA. Even after the veteran passes away, these records will need to be kept accessible for some time. “We could have data that’s 200 years old before we consider it end-of-lifecycle,” Ronzio said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the technology market is in a constant state of growth and evolution. Ronzio explained that this creates a tension in conversations with vendors, as these government platforms will require continued support and maintenance by their creator while decades of new products and evolutions pass by.

  1. Responsibility for acquisition procedures

The need to adhere to legal and regulatory guidelines in the acquisition/modernization process is an evergreen concern for agencies. This can create a challenge, however, because of the time it can add to an already lengthy process of reviewing new potential technologies and an agency’s own independent procedures of deliberation and implementation. Ronzio said this process can take his team anywhere from three months to decades. “That’s kind of a big window,” he said.

To cut down on this process, Ronzio emphasized the importance of communication between those running the program in search of a vendor and the project teams that are evaluating their services.

Another strategy that Ronzio recommends to trim time from these procedures is to reflect and ask, does this serve the mission at the level we need it to? “If the answer is no,” Ronzio said, “sometimes we have to give bad news to our leadership.

  1. Responsibility to make good use of resources

It’s no secret that limited resources are a challenge in government. Agencies and departments are constantly being tasked to do more with less. To surmount this, in addition to ensuring that a technology properly aligns with their mission, agencies must also do all that they can do verify that a vendor’s service will deliver as expected. “Don’t just trust that someone can do it,” Ronzio said, “have them prove it.”

Ronzio explained that the VA achieves this through the use of a digital sandbox, a virtual environment outside of the firewall where vendors can safely test their products and services on copies of the agency’s operating systems. With anywhere from 75 to 100 vendors using the sandbox as a testing ground each month, Ronzio said, “We kick the tires on almost anything.”

 If you want to attend sessions like this one at future virtual summits, pre-register today!


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