Five tips for prioritizing investments in government technology
Editor’s note: Today’s post highlights five takeaways from our session at the first ever Google Cloud Public Sector Summit. To watch the full session, check out All the Right Moves: Prioritizing Investments in Technology.
Now more than ever, government agencies need to invest in digital services to fulfill their missions and better serve communities. Yet modernization isn’t a one-and-done approach; it’s a sustained effort, with multi-year implications, and requires careful consideration of how to integrate existing investments to optimize costs. Digital transformation requires coordination between different programs and agencies, including all of their many competing considerations. In short, maximizing technology investments requires careful planning, strategic thinking, and industry partners that can provide flexibility and security and meet agencies where they are.
I sat down with Suzette Kent, former U.S. federal chief information officer, and Dominic Sale, assistant commissioner for Technology Transformation Services at the General Services Administration (GSA) for a conversation to unpack this important topic and discuss industry best practices.
The panelists had five tips for government employees who are making technology purchasing decisions for their agency.
1. Put the agency’s mission first. Avoid getting distracted by exciting new trends and focus on long-term goals that can impact which procurement strategies or funds could be used. The discussion started with how government agencies could cut through the noise about technology and prioritize which technology is best for their needs. Sale and Kent agreed that an agency should focus on its core mission outcomes and let its technology needs flow from that. Sale also emphasized the importance of having technology design respond to humans’ needs, which has historically been a challenge for government agencies.
For agencies to stay focused on their mission, final decisions about technology need to be made by the program manager who best understands each program’s mission. The government CIO’s role is to be the enabler for the technology and leverage it at the enterprise level, particularly when it comes to sharing infrastructure. The takeaway: enable mission programs by empowering your teams and providing access to authorized, compliant, innovative data platforms that programs can move confidently and quickly with.
2. Invest in interoperability. Agency employees often struggle to balance the need for a positive return on investment (ROI) with requirements for meeting mission objectives. While the panelists agreed that the total cost of ownership was important, they also emphasized taking an expanded view of ROI, including future-proofing and investing in functionality that may not realize its return for many years based on the initiative. Saving money isn’t particularly valuable if the solution doesn’t meet an agency’s needs. When choosing a technology partner, government employees should understand its long-term vision to ensure that the partner fits agency priorities. Partners’ technologies should also integrate seamlessly with existing systems so agencies don’t duplicate investment costs.
For example, Google Anthos extends Google Cloud services and engineering practices into an organization’s existing environment, establishing operational consistency across apps and modernization. With Anthos, agencies can simply and securely build and deploy applications anywhere, integrating cloud services across platforms. This allows them to enjoy a consistent DevOps experience for hybrid and multi-cloud environments and enables new innovation. Most importantly, this enables an enterprise data platform, one of the largest catalysts for mission transformation and applied AI.
3. Take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) benefits. Over the course of the pandemic, the rapid application of AI has improved government productivity, efficiency, and the ability to deliver critical new services to the public at scale. This has further cemented AI’s role as an essential government technology for the present and future. In fact, Nextgov reports that “46% of government IT specialists plan to use AI and machine learning (ML) for embedded systems in the near future.”
As we’ve seen over the course of the pandemic, government programs can start small with AI pilots before moving into broad deployment. This can help agencies understand AI’s potential before moving to full production. People always supervise AI technologies, and the possibilities are endless. Google Cloud’s Contact Center AI (CCAI) has helped government agencies improve the customer experience, by allowing citizens to schedule vaccine appointments via a platform of their choice with up to 28 languages and dialects, and manage vaccine deployment. The U.S. Navy spends billions annually to fight rust and corrosion on its ships. Inspections of ships, aircraft and vehicles are a time-consuming and critical part of keeping the U.S. Navy at top performance so Google Cloud and Simple Technology Solutions (STS) rapidly built an AI-based corrosion-detection and analysis system. The system detected and analyzed corrosion on vessels with 90% accuracy and will eventually be used to automate inspections of vessels, aircraft, and vehicles—saving billions of dollars. Document AI helps a variety of government agencies scale their document processing, reducing the time it typically takes to process enormous amounts of data and related citizen claims.
Successful adoption of AI also depends on the quality of the data. Ultimately, agencies need high-quality enterprise data pipes so that employees and the community trust the system and public sector agencies. Sale described a GSA project that used AI bots to read legal contracts and look for particular phrases that would indicate a specific use case. Previously, an employee would have had to read through the contracts and search for the information. In this way, AI is saving the government both money and time.
4. Creating better experiences for the public. Sale observed that, “trust is the government’s currency and profit motive.” And trust comes when the public can be served with the same modern tools and technology they’re used to - in real-time and with transparency in mind. For example, agencies can provide transparency in public-facing dashboards for programs and supply services that deliver information in real-time through solutions like CCAI.
Trust also requires that constituents feel that government agencies will keep their data safe and secure. The need for a globally secure infrastructure with systems that are up-to-date and designed with security at every level, underpinned by zero-trust enterprise-wide remains paramount - particularly after the series of recent cyberattacks targeting government IT infrastructure.
5. Finding the right technology partner. Government leaders need technology partners who provide a flexible and interoperable platform to integrate existing investments and maximize technical value. Historically, public sector agencies have largely been forced to adopt private clouds, which has reduced their access to richer features, and hindered their ability to adopt a full range of security and product capabilities. The right partner won’t require government leaders to compromise on functionality or service availability to achieve compliance. The right partner can harness the power of emerging technology to make it Government-ready and the true promise of cloud-- the access and integration of open data-- to make missions more powerful and impactful for the constituencies they serve.