How agencies can conquer generational technology skips
After the many challenges that emerged from the pandemic, government technology teams face yet another hurdle that most likely did not anticipate: catching their agencies up to the speed of technology.
Generational skips are inherent to technology evolution. An upgraded generation of hardware infrastructure is typically five times faster than the previous version. As many agency hardware update cycles were deferred during the mass telework period, IT teams now have to interface with technology that is up to 25 times faster than what was current at the start of the crisis. That is a daunting prospect for existing infrastructure that needs to plug-and-play with industry partners running more modern infrastructure.
The bottleneck effect
Adopting any next-generation technology in isolation creates a bottleneck that will illuminate other technologies in the environment that are behind. For example, upgrading servers can result in dated storage technology slowing response times; once storage is upgraded, there may be a new network issue because there isn’t a big enough pipe to move all of the data. Such cascading bottlenecks mean there is a need for constant generational refresh to keep as much consistency across the environment as possible.
That is unfortunately a challenging proposition, given that most agencies lack centralized oversight of the entire infrastructure and a cohesive cross-agency upgrade strategy. Different groups tend to work independently, which escalates the bottlenecking problem. This often results in degradation of end-user experience, application performance that doesn’t meet user expectations or internal SLAs being missed. The user complaints that typically ensue then drive different groups to independently update their impacted technologies, and the cycle continues.
Planning and procurement symbiosis
Better acquisition strategies for next-generation technologies will help address this challenge. Forward-looking acquisition should factor in new management technologies many vendors now offer that facilitate performance bottleneck analysis through artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. But government procurement cycles must be more efficient to ensure that employees aren’t missing the gradual steps that switching to a new generation of technology yearly allows. Pursuing innovate procurement methods will help accelerate new technology adoption. For instance, the as-a-service consumption model fits cleanly into Cloud Smart requirements and is easier than procuring a new agency CapEx investment.
Still, better procurement is only half of the battle. Agencies must know what they want to procure, which begins with taking on the planning cycle well in advance. That requires having a longer term, three-to-five-year strategy and vision for where an agency’s infrastructure needs to go. That means identifying everything in the environment ‑- applications, servers, storage, network switches and more — that requires updating and modernization and mapping out a plan for doing so.
While budgeting years in advance will be imprecise, agencies should consider a layered approach so that certain foundational technologies can be procured one year, with complimentary components coming the year after, and more the year after that. Resources like the Technology Modernization Fund can help. While such funds have understandably been heavily used for cybersecurity and zero-trust investment, they can certainly also be used for additional modernization requirements.
Current technology means better security
Those additional requirements also have security implications. Prior generation products often have weaker security capabilities; but security is always being improved in next-generation products. Regular tech refreshes will keep government technology on pace with security and infrastructure standards already adopted within the private sector. While obtaining authority to operate for any agency can be a lengthy process, adopting a consistent security framework from agency to agency will help ensure a reliable, predictable baseline that will advance each agency’s unique needs while raising the security posture across the entire government.
Bust the IT bottleneck
The disruptions from 2020 are now forcing agencies to catch-up on their technology updates, but the need won’t disappear when this phase is over. Rather than having less secure, years-old technology running in production environments, it’s important agencies stay on top of technology refresh by understanding the entire lifecycle of all data center and infrastructure assets and planning ahead. A three-to-five-year roadmap and vision for an agency’s technology requirements should underpin a continuous, iterative cycle that supersedes traditional siloed decision-making. Only then can agencies clear the IT bottleneck and provide the federal workforce with the user experience and capabilities they need for mission success.
Gary Hix is CTO at Hitachi Vantara Federal.