Federal IT Needs a Culture Shift

Tom O'Keefe

By Tom O’Keefe, Consultant

At many of the events I’ve been attending around the beltway lately, a common theme in federal IT keeps coming up – culture as an impediment to change. Many of the CXOs I hear speaking all mention that to modernize outdated federal systems, the culture within an agency and around its technology has got to change.

That’s not to say that agencies are dismissive of their workforce, or that they don’t value their employees – on the contrary, many leaders recognize that their teams are the most valuable resource they have. But to transform federal IT, to unlock the value of data and to fully embrace the move to the cloud, agency IT leaders know they need to drag their workforce kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

At AFCEA Bethesda’s Law Enforcement and Public Safety Technology Forum, Sonny Bhagowalia, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Office of Information Technology at Customs and Border Protection, highlighted the five things that federal IT leaders need to take into consideration:

  • People – It’s not just about skill sets anymore, it’s about the personality of the individuals on your team. Leaders realize that IT organizations are more effective if they have the right mix of personalities.
  • Process – There’s a real understanding that the procurement process needs to be updated within the IT community. But there’s also a belief that the budgeting process needs updating as well, and that the shift to the Technology Business Management (TBM) framework might provide more flexibility for program managers to tailor requirements to speed acquisitions. This could mean more opportunity for technology vendors to work with program managers to get deals done.
  • Policy – Like above, there’s a belief that procurement policy could use somewhat of an overhaul to address the time it takes for technology to be integrated into the federal technology stack. This is partly what continues to spur some agencies like the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security to make use of Other Transaction Authority (OTAs) to speed the time to get innovative technologies into their IT environments.
  • Technology – A continued and significant concern for agencies is the pace of technological advancement. By ramping up the outsourcing of technology to private companies who can innovate more quickly, federal agencies are starting to realize the benefits of newer technologies without having to go through laborious procurement processes.
  • Governance – And lastly, IT leaders need to increasingly understand the technology in their environments and make sure those assets are protected. Security remains of the utmost concern.

Remember, make sure you’re talking about how your technology can help an agency modernize its IT stack. Technology needs to enable government’s mission, but if you can help change the culture within an IT organization by demonstrating how your tools can ease the transformation of federal IT, you should have some real success throughout the next few years.


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About Tomas O'Keefe
Tom O'Keefe has over 10 years of market research experience as an Analyst and Consultant in the federal space. He also earned an MA in Political Science from George Mason University. He has covered both civilian and defense agencies and has presented to clients ranging from junior-level associates to executives from some of the largest Systems Integrators and contractors in the federal marketplace.

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