How SBA Set Model Expectations for Upgrading Legacy IT
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How SBA Set Model Expectations for Upgrading Legacy IT

By 2016, the Small Business Administration (SBA) had become one of the worst-performing IT organizations in government. Lack of chief information officer (CIO) leadership, scarce funds and an outdated IT infrastructure left the agency treading water.

“We got to SBA at the beginning of the fiscal year and there were zero dollars for anything cloud,” said the current SBA Deputy CIO, Guy Cavallo. “Meanwhile, we had Windows Server 2003 still in production almost two years after all security support had stopped.”

Fast-forward to today, though, and SBA is admired for its transformation. The agency’s modernization journey is a tactical and efficient example of how government can update legacy IT systems without sacrificing daily operations or usability.

But how did they do it?

At Thursday’s GovLoop online training, IT Modernization Success: Workforce, Security and Procurement, Cavallo shared insights about SBA’s success alongside Gary Pentecost, Systems Engineering Director of Networking at the digital workspace platform provider Citrix.

Cavallo’s team recognized that their path back to agency success and IT modernization would rely on a competent staff. Strong and effective leadership, in combination with skilled employees, set the foundation for a digital transformation.

“To do this type of transformation, you need strong and effective leadership at the top,” said Cavallo. “You can’t do cloud by dipping your toe in the water. You either jump in or stay on the sideline.”

Consistently updated knowledge of the cloud, DevSecOps, cybersecurity and other IT principles also aids transformation because it ensures that all employees understand how and why the agency’s transformation is taking place.

“IT today is not what IT was yesterday,” Pentecost explained. “We have to start thinking about what IT is going to be tomorrow and how we can prepare for that.”

Once their team had the necessary knowledge, SBA set out to complete 90-day transformation projects to jumpstart the agency’s modernization. So far, these projects have included building the cloud, Trusted Internet Connection (TIC) modernization and updating Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) processes.

One hurdle that SBA is still working to overcome is the outdated procurement methods that slow down the speed of transformation. Cavallo explained that traditional procurement isn’t built to adjust to the way new IT purchases are processed. Cloud pricing, for example, is dependent on scale of use, not traditional timelines, which can be hard for government procurement teams to understand.

Cavallo emphasized that modernization of acquisition processes and options is just as important as updated the technology itself and recommended that agencies train their departments to reflect this.

Modernization efforts like those at SBA ultimately trickle down to improve the constituent experience, which benefits everyone. Pentecost explained that keeping an agency’s technology up to date helps agencies provide a consistently positive experience.

“If their user experience is consistent, [agencies] will continue to be productive and [constituents] will continue to utilize your resources,” said Pentecost.

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Avatar photo Mark Hensch

Great story! It’s encouraging to know that agencies such as SBA can make such major changes no matter where they’re starting from.