If you compare today’s technology to the once-exciting offerings from years ago (think, smartphones versus flip phones), you can appreciate how more advanced IT allows for more interesting, enhanced experiences. It opens doors that didn’t seem possible — at least to a layperson — not long ago.
And in the public sphere, new technology helps agencies deliver better customer service and improve their operations.
All that advancement, though, comes at a cost: It makes things more complex.
During Wednesday’s online training entitled “Doing More With Less: Delivering Services Efficiently,” GovLoop heard from Howard Spira, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and from Willie Hicks, Public Sector Chief Technologist at Dynatrace. They discussed why agency tech has become so complicated, what can be done about it and what the future holds.
Why the Complexity?
Many things have complicated government technology, said Spira. “Everything is digitized. Almost every interaction now has a technology component (like this virtual webinar), normal business processes are all on-line, and what it takes to secure the ‘IT estate’ is becoming more complex.” Handling this technology requires agencies to understand and manage new types of contracts, innovative projects are moving along at warp speed, and the hybrid work environment “adds whole new layers of complexity,” said Spira.
Hicks, with Dynatrace, a firm that helps agencies understand the “what” and “why” of their IT landscapes, wholeheartedly agreed. He said that with hybrid work, “Complexity comes from the fact that we don’t know what’s going on when you’re at home.” And other agency challenges, he pointed out, include digital transformation (moving to the cloud, for example) and transitioning to microservices (when you take a monolithic service and break it down into perhaps hundreds of individual services).
And, of course, there’s the Amazon effect: Hicks said that consumer and constituent expectations are changing because of what people experience in the commercial world.
Into the Cloud
Spira drew a distinction between what he called “under the hood” complexity and “experienced” complexity. Think about a kitchen appliance, he said. If you open it up and look at all the wires and microchips and such, you could correctly conclude, “Wow, that’s pretty complicated.” But what the average person really experiences is pretty simple…. They just push a button. And that is what customers care about — does it do what it needs to do and is it easy to use.
If you extend that analogy to the cloud, what matters most to an agency’s workforce is how the cloud helps make it easy — how it helps people collaborate and work more effectively — not how the cloud works from an IT standpoint.
Spira also spoke about “the duality.” The customer experience is getting simpler, he said, but the technology is getting more complicated.
Transitioning to the cloud can be disconcerting, Hicks did acknowledge. “You are ceding a lot of control when you move applications from a data center to a cloud provider” and, he said, you need to alter some security protocols.
The Human Factor
Hicks also explained that while individuals have important talents to offer, they can’t compete with technology like artificial intelligence (AI). Humans can’t “dig into data points” (e.g., analyze thousands of employee logins) or handle remediation (e.g., immediately block access on multiple computers) as efficiently as AI can. But he said technology can augment what employees do, so they can focus on more high-level tasks.
Spira believes that IT workforce training must change to deal with this new complexity. “In many cases, we are not directly building this technology but stitching it together,” he said. “So to be effective, training needs to include a focus on things like project management, troubleshooting, finance, contracts, and human factors. Our focus has changed from building and operating systems to understanding if systems are working correctly, budgets and funding are on target, and human capital is being used wisely.” That kind of training, he said, is also what we need to focus on to ensure that IT departments deliver the mission and create relevant outcomes.
What the Future Holds
And if the experts had a crystal ball? Spira said that he is an optimist, but that resiliency will become increasingly important: That is, how do we ensurethe same levels of security, consistency, performance, and user comfort with our ‘digital infrastructure’ as we typically have experienced with the physical infrastructure we rely on.
Hicks predicted that technological complexity will continue but that new tech, including more reliance on AI, will further improve customer experiences and help agencies tackle more difficult problems. “The Pandora’s box of technology has been opened,” he concluded.
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