Agencies often see new technology as a broad remedy for their IT challenges, but that’s a misguided notion, said Craig Heartwell, Red Hat’s Managing Chief Architect for the North America Public Sector. Technology solutions are not silver bullets. “They only work on werewolves. There are no silver bullets in IT,” he said.
Heartwell, whose firm specializes in open-source software, believes technology is actually an enabler that allows an agency’s people and processes to thrive, and he thinks the pandemic’s rather narrow focus on work-from-home issues derailed a larger conversation about how government entities should move forward.
Agencies should function more like businesses than government bureaucracies, he said.
A Company Mindset
Public-sector organizations should be mostly self-sufficient, but still operate as part of a larger whole. And rather than adhere to a typical administrative structure, agencies should adopt a more corporate mindset.
“The rigor of government [inter-agency process and accountability] could be retained, and at the same time, we could make a culture shift within the agencies themselves, such that we had the opportunity for the workforce … to be much more innovative and focused on higher value activities,” said Heartwell. “In the last decade or so, the technology has matured to the point where this is fairly easy to do.”
Agencies need visionary leadership, he said. “The right mindset could really set the bar and show that this is extremely possible.” And new thinking could appeal to younger generations who want meaningful job opportunities.
Automate What You Can
People often look at the dichotomy between technology in their personal vs. professional lives and wish their work options could match their personal. The first step in that direction, Heartwell said, is to consider what agency endeavor you want to change, then consider how technology plays into that.
Automation is critical. “There’s almost nothing you can’t figure out how to automate,” he said. He believes the goal of automation is to make employees more valuable to their employers by freeing people from routine tasks that lead to human errors.
There are challenges to automation of course, and Heartwell is honest about that. Legacy technology, compliance, budget constraints, workforce recruitment/ retention, data silos, unrealistic cloud expectations, and cybersecurity are among the hurdles.
Find Industry Partners
Agencies can reap huge benefits through finding industry partnerships to help them overcome those obstacles.
For instance, Red Hat has “core technology which is absolutely fundamental to [agency transformation], and we have an ecosystem of partners that help us take that technology and [flesh] it out … to solve big picture problems,” he said.
Agencies can choose between free open-source software and more agency-specific solutions. The Ansible Automation Platform and Project Wisdom, a joint IBM/Red Hat project, both take automation to a next level. And the Open Innovation Lab allows cross-disciplinary teams to train on and successfully implement a real project.
“We have all this creative capability and knowledge from the private sector that we can help agencies apply to government,” said Heartwell.
This article appears in our guide, “Agency of the Future: How New Possibilities are Emerging in the Present.” To read more about how agencies are anticipating future needs, download it here.