Using ARPA funds to build a technology foundation that supports recovery
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill intended to speed up recovery from the pandemic and its economic aftermath, providing $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments. With ARPA’s emphasis on key infrastructure projects, it is important for state and local agencies to understand that essential infrastructure often depends heavily on technology systems and services. Besides being foundational to public-sector operations, this technology infrastructure has been slow to modernize, limiting the analytics and capabilities needed to empower agencies, their employees and the constituents they serve.
With broad potential uses and relatively few limitations, the funding could be transformational to pandemic recovery. Below are some key ways agencies can use ARPA funds to strengthen technology infrastructure in ways that align with the intent of their programs.
- Investing in infrastructure modernization. Many long-term capital projects to modernize critical business systems, such as ERP and human capital management, were slowed or halted altogether as funds shifted to support critical and direct pandemic-response efforts. Public-sector organizations can now use ARPA funds to move aging on-premise systems to more reliable, secure, flexible and dynamic cloud solutions. With this shift, they stand to realize significant long-term benefits, leveraging proven cloud migration models available from experienced business application providers.
- Supporting a hybrid workforce. Human capital management was already a high-risk issue due to skills gaps, retirement waves and the changing nature of public-sector work. Responding to the pandemic with already stretched personnel resources though, forced agencies to consider mass hiring and training for new or under-skilled employees. Becoming a talent destination is a crucial component of workforce resilience, so agencies must now modernize their talent acquisition, talent development and human capital strategic planning frameworks and systems. Meanwhile, as vaccination efforts continue, agencies must continue to enhance their remote workforce capabilities to complete short-term pandemic-related programs, reinvigorating vital government services.
- Gauging sentiment to improve service. As organizations grapple with the cultural and physical service shifts brought on by the pandemic, gathering, evaluating and understanding users’ perceptions and satisfaction levels becomes a crucial component of any program. With a strategic approach to the collection and analysis of key employee insights, agencies can prioritize and drive informed actions to improve the workforce experience.
- Deepening intelligence with analytics. By leveraging data as a strategic asset, public-sector organizations can identify, merge, synthesize and use disparate data across systems in a cohesive way, helping them drive both tactical and strategic decision-making at all levels. The adoption of a data-driven strategy and a centralized toolset enables real-time insights and supports service delivery that results in greater public confidence and higher engagement, even during post-pandemic hybrid operations.
These recommendations should be considered components of a larger recovery strategy. ARPA funds are not an opportunity to produce an “IT wish list,” but rather to demonstrate the key role technology plays in government modernization. When developing funding requests, public-sector organizations should connect their technology investment to the specific language and objectives set by the Treasury Department.
Using ARPA funds to modernize legacy systems through a move to the cloud and by expanding workforce and analytics tools, agencies can expedite pandemic recovery while forging a strategic path to long-term benefits and overall service improvements.
Bill Greeves is state and local government industry advisor with SAP.