‘Mythbusting’ Concerns That Federal IT Can’t Innovate

If you believed everything you read on the internet, you’d think government is slow, immobile and unable to find smart, feasible solutions to the problems facing Americans. After joining peers from the private sector at the American Technology Council’s White House CEOs summit last month, I can say with confidence that the federal government is far from the IT dinosaur it is often portrayed as.

There’s certainly truth in the challenges facing government as it aspires to be simultaneously innovative, secure and operational. Let’s start with the financial dynamic of being frugal stewards of taxpayer dollars. In today’s environment of frugality, every expense understandably demands a justification, and an infrastructural overhaul of IT can pose a daunting figure. Agency chief information officers must balance their desire to onboard new technology with dollars and cents.

An impetus to cut spending doesn’t decrease the urgency faced by government agencies charged with bolstering their IT infrastructure. In fact, demand is skyrocketing in tandem with constantly evolving cybersecurity threats and an ever-increasing palette of solution sets to counter them being made available to CIOs and chief technology officers. Agencies can’t simply onboard new technology carte blanche with the expectation that security concerns will work themselves out.

Integrated systems increase an agency’s vulnerable surface area – a real challenge to consider as the federal government grapples with IT consolidation. Agency IT leadership cannot afford the headache of constantly looking over their shoulder, fretting about security or shopping for the latest shiny new toy in a myriad of shiny new IT offerings and plugging them all together. And if solutions are implemented haphazardly, CIOs can be left with a hodgepodge of mismatched systems they’ll be forced to shore up or replace again down the line.

Finally, there are jobs to consider. As automation and intelligent technology solutions continue to proliferate at an exponential rate, we also must address growing concerns about skill development and workforce training to manage them.

I discussed at June’s American Technology Council CEO summit the same thing I told hundreds of public sector IT professionals attending VMware’s 2017 Public Sector Innovation Summit in May: Adopting a pro-innovation culture can bust some of the great myths associated with federal IT today – that silos are good, the cloud is bad and government maintains an “ugly” pace of innovation.

Myth: Government IT cannot simultaneously innovate and operate.

Reality: Virtualized infrastructure is agile infrastructure.

In recent years, many organizations, including government agencies, are considering an option for a “bimodal IT strategy,” to dedicate separate resources to manage legacy systems while also incorporating new technologies. While it isn’t inherently wrong to argue for resource sharing across old and new systems, in practice, a bimodal IT strategy of siloing and sequestering IT teams pits “old and slow” legacy teams against the “new and cool” team of innovators. This perceived dichotomy reinforces discord, budget conflict and complaints of organizational favoritism.

There’s no denying that agencies must grapple with adapting legacy systems for present-day operations, but not at the expense of innovation. By re-envisioning an agile and automated foundation for IT infrastructure through virtualized data centers, networks and computing power, government agencies can minimize the attention and resources they dedicate to operational maintenance and can further emphasize innovation across the enterprise.

Myth: Private cloud solutions are “pie in the sky” for federal agencies.

Reality: Government can capably use a hybrid cloud scenario using public and private clouds.

Many in the fast-paced developer community have become so enamored with public cloud solutions that they are ready to close the doors completely to private, on-premises cloud infrastructure. However, any large entity that delivers IT at scale – whether it be a private enterprise or a government agency – must consider multiple variables like cost, performance, compliance and security when redeploying assets to the cloud.

In many cases, private cloud is considerably cheaper to operate than outsourcing to public cloud, often with more reliable performance due to its proximity to the enterprise. And feds know well the importance of regulatory compliance, especially within the realms of security, privacy and data localization requirements. As threats and challenges evolve and proliferate, these requirements continue to change, and IT architecture must be agile to keep up.

Virtual infrastructure enables this agility, allowing agencies to draw on the best of both the private and public cloud without sacrificing security. Hybrid cloud is our present and our future.

Myth: Public sector IT can’t keep the pace with private sector innovation.

Reality: Government can set the pace for private sector innovation.

Much has been made of the pace of government innovation comparatively to Silicon Valley, and the pressure to move quickly in the face of rapidly evolving security threats is understandable. But I live and work in Silicon Valley and I can tell you that while the market is moving quickly, federal agencies are working hard to innovate as well.

The tech industry is rapidly proliferating and marketing point-to-point solutions to government agencies, as government spending on security is exponentially increasing and far outpacing budget growth. Instead of throwing money at the surface of the problem, government IT leadership finds it must prioritize a reliable cyber hygiene process within the infrastructure, where scalable security functionalities like native encryption and network micro-segmentation can be embedded directly and future innovative security solutions can be more easily integrated.

Technology as we know it – the internet, Silicon Valley and the myriad digital tech solutions we can now hold in our very hands – are collectively a direct product of the seed of committed research investment planted decades ago by government and by academia. Our society’s technological capability would not exist without it.

We in the tech industry deeply believe that we must continue planting those seeds for our children and grandchildren. We have a responsibility to recommit to and reinvest in this spirit of innovation that will lead to greater quality of life across the board for the generations to follow us.

Pat Gelsinger is chief executive officer of VMware Inc.

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