With the year coming to a close and a brand new one just around the corner, it’s a good time for agencies to reflect and take stock of where they are headed, where they are flourishing and where they need to devote a little more attention.
In the keynote of GovLoop’s recent virtual summit, “Gov’s 2020 Tech Focus,” Craig Fischer, a program manager in the Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation (FIT) within the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service, discussed four areas where the government is currently doing well, along with four areas in which it could improve going into the 2020 technology landscape.
Where the Government Is Doing Well
- Starting small and starting simple
With the excitement that surrounds new technologies, it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves. Fischer cautioned against letting our eyes become bigger than our stomachs and going after technologies without a plan.
Instead, he recommends breaking projects down into smaller chunks and then choosing the right piece of technology. Instead of tasking IT teams with tackling a new technology full stop, provide them with smaller, actionable areas where they can implement the right solution bit by bit.
- Finding comfort in the unknown
Fischer shared that in his experience, every technology project has taken some kind of unexpected turn. While a common experience across many fields, it is especially so for teams working with new and emerging technologies. Fischer urged teams to accept this reality and expect the unexpected in their project plans. Exploring the possibilities of the unknown is a huge part of the process and approaching each case as an opportunity to learn can only yield more fruitful results.
- Practicing radical transparency
Fischer acknowledged that sometimes teams, including his own, have kept their work on new projects under a cloak of secrecy before involving others and getting leadership on board, even though this can be extremely counterproductive. Instead, Fischer encouraged that teams allow themselves to be more outcome-independent when exploring the uses of new technologies. The whole process will benefit from having more eyes and more perspectives involved.
- Appointing designated teams
Because of the ever-growing vastness of the emerging tech field, Fischer stressed the importance of having separate teams dedicated to proactively searching for and implementing new technologies. These teams should be focused on scanning the news and reports from other agencies about new technologies. In addition, they should constantly analyze the agency’s processes and never stop asking, “How could these be improved?
Where the Government Could Improve
- Absorbing the pace of change
From artificial intelligence to blockchain and robotic process automation – not to mention the remaining galaxy of technology making its way into the mainstream – describing the amount of change facing government IT departments as “overwhelming” would be a massive understatement. Fischer said that moving forward, it’s imperative that agencies take a tactical, critical approach to modernization and selectively prioritize certain projects to protect their spread-thin IT departments from overload.
- Keeping up while technology leads the pack
Following his previous point, Fischer remarked that at this moment, technological progress is vastly outpacing current policies, practices and, sometimes, even laws. Fischer urged that if we want to see these new technologies successfully find a place in government, agencies must find ways to be adaptive and better negotiate how to fit new tech into the rigid structures that have already been established.
- Confronting organizational cultures
While there are many agents of change who are in favor of modernization efforts, Fischer noted that there are also agents who are opposed to change. It can be very challenging to get these individuals on board with new projects, especially if they are at the helm of the decision-making process.
One strategy that Fischer emphasized is that when you are describing a new technology pilot to leadership, do not focus on explaining how it works. Instead, highlight for them the specific, tangible benefits of the technology, and how it will improve mission-critical processes.
- Fostering cross-agency collaboration
For his final point, Fischer remarked that agencies don’t regularly share projects, use cases or lessons learned. Because of the challenging pace of emerging technology, Fischer expressed that there is immense value to be gained by exchanging this information and that the implementation could be revolutionized at all levels of government.