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Teaching Career Govies New Tricks

The government’s tech transformation journey is rarely a straight path, but many agencies fail along the way because they don’t ease their people into the process.

“Many projects fail because they start with the tech question first,” said Sonny Hashmi, Managing Director, Industry Alliances Leader, Government at Box. “The bottom-up approach of engaging with the users who use the product every day is the right approach. It’ll ease adoption. And it adds value to somebody’s day,” Hashmi said during GovLoop’s latest Fireside Chat on Wednesday.

According to Hashmi, a former government IT leader, technology illustrates one area where today’s public servants need to continuously learn new practices and products. “IT people should be constantly learning,” he said. “Without doing that, you won’t know the art of the possible when it comes to the technology out there.”

Hashmi added that some public servants have trouble embracing new tools because they aren’t receptive to learning how to use it most effectively.

“I’ve seen all too often people who learned one product 15 years ago still pushing that product at work,” he said. “They don’t know anything else and it never works. For all professions, it’s too easy to fall back on what we know.”

Jeff Clark, a Digital Service Expert at the Defense Digital Service (DDS), added that he’s sometimes seen a disconnect between agency leaders and customers using their organization’s products and services. DDS hires top technologists for term-limited “tours of duty” to work alongside military personnel to improve government services and solutions.

Connected with the Defense Department (DoD), DDS has helped strengthen everything from military cybersecurity to coding.

“If you have a technical challenge, go talk to a user,” Clark said. “Civil servants always want to do the right thing, the best thing. Listen to them.”

Previously, Clark added, some public servants had resisted DDS’s efforts to transform their work as they didn’t initially see the project’s value. Clark noted that during one initiative, DDS required participants to host daily development standups and use modern communication tools to move forward.

“Sometimes you must drag people who are kicking and screaming,” he said. “Once they started seeing progress, they started to see the value of this process.”

Why, then, is an agile mentality crucial for agencies? One reason, Hashmi said, is that’ll help them attract and keep younger talent.

“If you look at Gen Z and millennials and how they work, they learn new skills constantly,” he said. “Every two years, they look for new roles. We need a brand new, complete rethinking of human capital in government.”

Hashmi also argued that an agile mentality can help agencies cope with the currently rapid pace of technological development.

“The mission problems that governments are facing are evolving every day,” he said. “Too often in government, the incentives are based around risk-avoidance rather than innovation.”

Hashmi then emphasized the importance of keeping citizens in mind during any attempt at transforming technology.

“The mission of agencies is to drive outcomes for citizens, for veterans, for taxpayers, for whoever your constituents might be,” he said.

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