Today my daughter and her fellow first-grade classmates celebrated the first 100 days of school by dressing as centenarians. Forgetting about the celebration, I sent my daughter to school in her usual attire. But a quick glance at my Facebook feed—filled with adorable pictures of my daughter’s classmates decked out with grey hair, shawls and canes—reminded me. So I grabbed a few items around the house, swung by CVS for a pair of reading glasses, and rushed back to school to hastily accessorize her. The end result was poor compared to those who’d actually prepared and planned their attire, but at least she wasn’t the only kid not in costume.
Like the centenarians costume I threw together, our Federal information technology infrastructure is simply not as good as it could be. Across the board, agencies are spending billions to maintain a patchwork of legacy systems that simply don’t get the job done. Systems are aging and insecure, unable to process modern workloads and generally vulnerable to penetration.
Unlike immigration, border security, or tax reform, IT Modernization isn’t sexy. But it’s also not controversial, and consequently has garnered bipartisan support. In an ongoing effort to solve this challenge, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) are in the process of revising the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, which passed in the House but not the Senate in December 2016.
Interestingly, the sticking point in the Senate was the high cost of modernization (estimated at $9B by the Congressional Budget Office). The real discussion though, needs to be around the cost of not modernizing.
Why Care about IT Modernization?
- Reduce government IT spend. From recurring annual maintenance costs to the many “fixes” and add-ons designed to solve the ever-growing list of issues, agencies often spend more on keeping legacy systems up and running than they would to simply rip and replace.
- Harden security to protect from vulnerability. Today, the question is no longer “will we get hacked?” but “when will we get hacked?” Modern systems have more built in control for protection.
- Drive more value from the data. The aggregation of pertinent data from diverse data systems; both legacy and modern, can lead to timely and valuable insights, or anticipatory intelligence. In turn the government can make informed decisions, and apply resources where they are most needed.
How Can Analytics Help?
Enter analytics, which can support the IT modernization movement in two ways. First, analytics can support the Federal Information Technology Reform Act by helping to identify where and what to cut. It can answer questions like: “Which systems are costing more to maintain than to replace?”, “Where do we have system duplication or overlap?” and “What software have we purchased but not deployed?” Better visibility into the complete inventory and associated spending helps to build the case for the modernization investment, which will be offset by maintenance reduction and eliminating duplication.
Second, analytics is a component of the modernization effort itself. Many programs today are simply unable to access the information they need in a timely fashion (or at all) due to continued use of antiquated business intelligence software. Real-time and historical data provides federal agencies the ability to understand operations and anticipate eventualities for timely and accurate decision making, a key component of modernization. For example, one federal agency recently told me that they historically spent three weeks compiling and aggregating data for analysis. With Qlik, they now have daily access to the information.
Others are paying exorbitant fees to contractors to build and maintain open source analytics.
Here are a few cost-saving tips to consider when modernizing your analytics solution:
- Consider Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) software first. It’s less expensive in the long run, and offers best-of-breed solutions.
- Select modern architectural approaches. Features like “in-memory” reduce cost, minimize dependency on network bandwidth and decrease strain on operational database queries.
- Ensure user flexibility. User interface customization and extensibility across departments are key for ensuring user adoption. Selecting modern technologies that have open APIs that allow for integration into other solutions is critical.
- Provide an environment where the data is trusted. Ensure consolidation of information from multiple source systems that incorporates data governance to ensure accurate, trustworthy information.
- Deploy at the point of interaction. Embed analytic solutions where users already are. Embedded analytics is a key part of delivering data at the point of decision.
In the excitement of the first 100 days, topics like immigration and border control have dominated the conversation. Yet even with these controversial issues, modern analytics can help by gathering the data needed to solve tough problems. We still have some time before April 29th, so let’s work together—government and industry, Democrat and Republican—to ensure that IT Modernization gets the attention it deserves.