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The Intersection of Tech and Leadership in Gov: Looking Ahead to 2019

Government is innovating, collaborating and problem-solving at a pace that hasn’t been seen before in the public sector. With the aid of exciting technology like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and IoT (just to name a few), the role of public servants is not just to serve their mission, but also to be informed about emerging trends. As we come to the end of the year, govies of all levels and functions should be considering what’s on the horizon for technology and how it could affect their agency, mission, and day-to-day work in 2019.

That was the focus of GovLoop’s recent virtual summit, “Gov Tech Trends to Pay Attention to in 2019.” At the summit’s keynote, Colonel (Retired) Bobby Saxon, the Chief Technology Officer for the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), CMS, spoke about the trends that CMS is focusing on in the coming year. Colonel Saxon is responsible for leading the architecting, development, and implementation for all information technology services for the Insurance Marketplace.

Saxon spoke particularly to the role technology will play in accomplishing his organization’s mission in the upcoming year. According to Saxon, CMS is focusing on four main technology trends: cloud transformation; data strategy and modernization; process improvement; and user/stakeholder experience.

Cloud Transformation

“After many cycles of open enrollment, we realized the data center philosophy was not answering all of our needs,” Saxon said. CMS is now down a path to a full implementation of cloud by spring 2019. “The biggest reason we are going to the cloud is performance and stability. Our real needs revolve around our primary business cycle, which is open enrollment. We have to be ready for that. Our daily volume of users in our systems can go from just a few thousand, to over a million a day during open enrollment. The data center setup right now simply does not allow us to scale. We’re looking quite excitedly toward the cloud to handle that surge and maintain stability.”

The transformation to cloud has been an aggressive move on CMS’s part to get it accomplished, Saxon said. “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.”

Data Strategy & Modernization

Saxon spoke to how CMS is an organization with petabytes of data – but with several challenges in making use of it.

“We have data across multiple stovepipes and silos and sometimes it’s hard for us to take advantage of that data because it is in too many different places,” he said. “We recognize that’s an area where we have huge potential for growth and streamlining our organization. It also gives us more transparency and make sure that anybody who is using our data knows it exists and there is openness there for understanding it.”

It will be a multi-year path in consolidating and making sure their data is accurate, Saxon said, and they will be implementing standards and a strong data governance program in place to make sure it goes smoothly.

Process Improvement

Saxon has a plan in place for helping CMS think more strategically what do we want to be doing 3-5 years down the road from a technology standpoint and how can they can better positions their products with their mission and strategy.

“We have to align our new deliverables with our strategy,” he said. To do that, they’re focusing on areas of governance, portfolio management, architecture and an initiative he calls MaPS – marketplace project startup – which standardizes how the agency launches projects and products.

“We have to ask ourselves, are we building a capability that doesn’t align with a strategic view of our vision?” he said “We haven’t been as diligent in tracing our software capabilities in the past so we need to do that in the future to stay aligned with projects. And in 2019 we will be retiring a dozen capabilities that we have already modernized or that are redundant because we are doing a more efficient way of delivering that service. That’s another big focus of ours.”

CMS is also investing heavily in Technology Business Management, or TBM, a set of guidelines to categorize funds so organizations can make better sense of IT data. “TBM helps us understand where we are spending our IT dollars, which is a goal of the President’s Management Agenda that we want to align to,” Saxon said.

User/Stakeholder Experience

Finally, the fourth area that Saxon said CMS is focusing on with technology in 2019 is user experience.

“This is a critical piece for us. It’s an area where we can continue to improve for users who are coming to our website or mobile platforms. We want to streamline processes and make sure open enrollment is a seamless process for our users,” he said. “This will help us get closer to a full mobile implementation – meaning you can do everything from a mobile perspective, and you won’t have to pick up the phone.”

CMS is also focusing on rolling out enhanced direct enrollment, which allows their partners to create a CMS user experience from their end and take full advantage of everything CMS delivers on the backend but do it on a partner website. “This will ultimately allow stakeholders and our users more opportunity to engage with us in a way they want, as opposed in a way they have to,” Saxon said.

In short, Saxon said the several themes underlying CMS’s focus on technology in 2019 were IT modernization, data transparency, improving user experience, offering quality services, and creating IT spending efficiency, several of which align to goals in the President’s Management Agenda. “We’re also always analyzing the next big thing,” he added, “meaning we’re looking at artificial intelligence and blockchain and doing some small scale tests with those technologies to understand the art of the possible.”

Finally, Saxon spoke to the need for strong leadership in IT, especially as technology expands across all agencies and levels of users. “The leadership piece is critical – come to the table with leadership skills first then IT sills that are complimentary to leadership skills,” he said. “And just surround yourself with extremely smart individuals and empower them.”

Want to attend more GovLoop virtual summits in 2019? Make sure to sign up at this link to be notified when they are happening!

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