A new report from Accenture (NYSE: ACN) has found that while U.S. federal agencies are accelerating the modernization of their information technology (IT) systems and infrastructures, there are significant gaps in aligning their technology priorities with mission objectives. In addition, despite many agencies reporting success implementing new technologies, only a small minority have fully adopted new approaches like cloud computing, digital platforms and agile software development, underscoring the gaps that many are facing in supporting more-agile operations.
The State of Federal IT 2018 report — based on the Accenture Federal Services (AFS) survey of 200 federal IT executives — sought to answer two primary questions: Is federal IT serving mission needs, and are agencies pivoting quickly enough to new technologies?
The results found that while IT organizations are making real progress in modernizing technology systems and infrastructures, more than two-thirds (70 percent) of IT decision makers report that they’re still playing an enabling role within their agency. At the same time, collaboration between the IT organization and mission, business and operations stakeholders are inconsistent. Only 47 percent of IT decision makers believe they’re effectively contributing to mission agility, and even fewer (39 percent) say they’re able to transform mission and business requirements into compelling business cases for new IT investment.
“The stakes for federal IT executives have never been greater,” said Tom Greiner, a senior managing director and technology lead for Accenture Federal Services. “Digital transformation can empower government agencies to deliver upon the immense expectations of the American public. While the tools and capabilities they need are now more accessible, they also face familiar constraints around budget and talent that will force prioritization.”
The report also assessed the extent to which federal agencies are adopting specific strategies and technologies, like Agile and DevOps, commercial cloud infrastructures and shared services/centers of excellence. Across the board, responses indicated a stronger focus on modernizing IT operations than on deploying capabilities that directly empower mission and business stakeholders. For example, 54 percent describe commercial cloud infrastructure as either very important or essential to accelerating IT impact, while 40 percent say the same about software-as-a-service applications. At the same time, commercial cloud adoption among federal agencies remains limited, with more than half (54 percent) of respondents saying they run only 25 percent or less of their infrastructure in the cloud.
While IT investments are becoming more of a priority for federal agencies, the path to technology modernization is not without challenges. More than four in 10 respondents cited lack of funding (48 percent), cybersecurity concerns (44 percent) and a reliance on legacy IT (40 percent) as major barriers to technology adoption. More than one-quarter (28 percent) of government executives said they are experiencing digital skills shortages, a major hindrance both now and into the future.
“Our research and experience show that success will require government IT executives to increasingly lead cross-agency collaboration and goal sharing,” Greiner said. “At the same time, they must reorient IT to focus on both performance and impact, re-engineering their environment to become truly agile and take full advantage of accelerating advancements in technology.”
To help federal agencies on their journey, the report outlines three key principles that are critical to IT modernization:
- IT Leaders Become Business Leaders: The relationship between technology and mission outcomes has never been stronger. Therefore, IT leaders must use their unique understanding of technology’s potential and its limitations to help their agencies envision the art of the possible and seize opportunities to improve their capabilities.
- Embrace New Objectives: With technology so deeply embedded in the enterprise fabric, new partnerships and collaborations are needed. For IT, this means shifting to shared vision and objectives with a greater focus on impact and outcomes. One way to accelerate this transition is by forward deployment of IT talent directly into the mission, business and operations work groups.
- Prepare for Constant Change: Continuous reinvention is a hallmark of the digital era. To succeed, IT leaders need to champion a platform vison that virtually eliminates the threshold to change. This requires “liquid” environments, a liquid workforce, liquid data and liquid applications that move in concert to quickly meet new and emerging requirements. – CT Bureau