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Creating a Culture for Modernization to Thrive

Conversations about modernization in government span decades. Lawmakers have passed policies to spur it, funding structures have been tested to support it and there are models for cabinet-level agencies to follow.

“But, ultimately, successful and widespread modernization is about execution and creating a psychologically safe environment where folks are open to taking risks and leadership supports them,” said Steve Grewal, Federal Chief Technology Officer at enterprise data management firm Cohesity.

As a former federal IT executive, Grewal knows that change management can either skillfully guide or derail those efforts. “There are a lot of moving parts around modernization — from contracting to technology considerations — and it’s important to have a shared understanding of the end state.”

Data is that foundational layer for building a shared vision, taking well-informed risks and moving the ball forward. Grewal shared practical ways that agencies can support modernization through solid data practices and psychologically safe spaces for challenging the status quo.

1. Manage data, innovate efficiently

“You have to look at the data layer as you consider modernization,” Grewal said. As employees’ workloads expand and public services increase, so does the potential for data breaches and service outages.

That’s why agencies must prioritize a sound data protection strategy that underpins modernization efforts. Take the Defense Department (DoD), for example. Cohesity’s DoD customers are constantly examining their data footprint across facilities, remote offices and installations. They realize that the pace of innovation is fast, and the best-of-breed technology today may be obsolete in the near future.

2. Have open dialogue around the issues you’re trying to solve

Depending on the size, scope and complexity of your modernization initiative, you’ll likely have incremental touchpoints where it’s essential that you confirm that the project is on track, Grewal said. The pandemic has put into perspective how critical it is for government IT teams and the business units they support to collaborate openly, honestly and often, beyond obligatory engagements.

“In the context of those partnerships, it’s important to fail fast and learn and course correct,” he said. “Historically, it could be months or even years before a work product was delivered, only to find out that it did not hit the mark.”

3. Determine how you will measure modernization

Think through the efficiencies and tangible outcomes for tracking progress, Grewal said. How do you quantify success? For example, are you able to deliver the same level of capability at a lower cost?

Or are you providing greater capabilities that might require an upfront investment but leads to improved mission outcomes? In that case, you might measure the number of transactions made, response times and other metrics tied to user experience.

Either way, expectations should be explored, communicated and verified through metrics. “We don’t have a crystal ball,” Grewal said.

“One thing we can agree on is that data is your top strategic asset, whether we’re talking improved service delivery, infrastructure upgrades or digital transformation.”

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s new guide, “Agency of the Future: Common Misconceptions Holding You Back and How to Break Free.” Download the full guide here.

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