Adopting the Right IT Modernization Mindset

Modernization can be daunting, especially in government, where risk aversion dominates decision making. The possibility that something could go wrong inhibits many agencies from making the leap, regardless of the benefits that can be reaped.

But despite the risk-averse mentality, there are still agencies that have found success in modernization. That was the main point of discussion at GovLoop’s event, Where Collaboration and Digital Transformation Intersect.

To provide insight into the mindset and approaches needed for successful IT modernization, GovLoop’s Christopher Dorobek was joined by Bobby Saxon, Chief Technology Officer, Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, and Airis McCottry Gill, Director of Management, Planning and Analysis, Veterans Experience Office, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Following a theme from previous sessions, both Gill and Saxon made clear the role of a customer-centric approach when beginning IT modernization. Emphasizing customers in the modernization process gives a clear path to follow for agencies unsure of the next step to take.

“Don’t make assumptions,” Gill said. “We don’t have all the answers. What do our customers need and want? We want them to have a wonderful experience. We use human-centered design to go to our customers and find out what’s going well and what’s not. ”

Saxon agreed, acknowledging that the entire process should be based around making the experience better and more efficient for customers. Although his title doesn’t readily reflect it, Saxon is the CIO of This role means that he is certainly no stranger to centering his approach on the needs of customers.

He also suggested that focusing on process management and maintaining a culture that facilitates IT modernization are both crucial to making it become a reality.

“Modernization has nothing to do with IT,” Saxon said. “It has to do with process improvement. How do we take IT and make our processes better so our customers have a better experience? We spend a lot of time inside our organization managing the culture so that we can continuously evolve the system.”

Saxon has spent plenty of time pushing for modernization, receiving pushback throughout the process. He explained that his agency had been dipping its toes in cloud for years, but never fully committed. Now, they’ve finally taken an all-in approach.

“We’re in the midst of a modernization to the cloud right now,” Saxon said. “It’s been an aggressive move on our part to get it accomplished. It was surprising how little our end users understood what the cloud actually meant. I spent a lot of time communicating and collaborating with business owners to explain what the end result would mean to them.”

The final push to cloud was made possible due to the communication-friendly environment that Saxon previously described. As he said, IT modernization isn’t as centered around IT as you might think.

Gill supported the idea that having a collaborative environment, especially with customers, is the best way to make the final push towards implementing modernization.

“Share your thoughts. Share your experiences. There are so many perspectives that we wouldn’t have taken into account. Having those various perspectives has been critical to moving forward. Talk to customers, let them know that their feedback is key to moving forward as well.”

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Avatar photo Mark Hensch

Bobby Saxon’s explanation of the gradual process that launching a full cloud adoption push at his agency took is illuminating. Thanks for highlighting that part of his remarks!