The shift to intelligent technology and what it means for the federal sector

The perception that the private sector outpaces the public sector in the adoption and implementation of new technologies is not without merit. However, the shift to intelligent technology is one that is public/private agnostic. Until recently, IT professionals in the federal sector, similar to the private one, were focused on keeping infrastructure and internal applications at the largest government organizations humming and were the people who requested budgets for tools which did things most people did not understand.

But today, technology spans federal organizations and is in nearly every employee’s hands, whether sanctioned or not—putting tremendous new pressures on CIOs in the federal sector.

{mosads}In my role as CIO of Insight Enterprises, a Fortune 500 company that delivers technology for the workplace, I speak daily to dozens of CIOs from many of the largest, most sophisticated and most recognizable government organizations. Something I’m increasingly hearing from these tech luminaries is that the very thing that was once at the heart of their position—being the gate keepers of all that is technical—has rapidly evolved toward something quite different…they are now practitioners and a sort of broker. And I doubt the evolution is over.

There are a few major factors driving this shift.

Technology is much cheaper and more prolific than ever before. For the first time in our history, virtually anyone in the developed world has access to unlimited computing power, unlimited storage and unlimited networking as long as they can pay for it; cloud has democratized technology and made it intelligent. The more these intelligent assets are built out, the lower their costs will go. So, with only some above-average technical acumen and a credit card, anybody can have access to the same computing power as the biggest companies in the world.

The impact of low-cost, widely available connectivity is driving all sorts of new trends like crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and real-time collaboration among people anywhere in the world.

But what does this all mean for today’s CIOs at government agencies?

It means that directly controlling every piece of technology within an agency is becoming far less important as it used to be.  

Instead, CIOs need to be hyper focused on what really matters while putting systems in place to manage and mediate the rest.

As we transition to an intelligent technology prolific world, here are the big three “watch outs” that I’m hearing from top CIOs along these lines—and what the best positioned players are doing to solve for these challenges:

Beware of entropy in the core

In a perfect world, an organization’s technical ecosystem would be highly responsive and adaptable. Unfortunately, CIOs must operate in an opposite environment, where they are increasingly confronted by external applications that may or may not work with their architecture. This is why it’s critical for CIOs to identify core functions that they will directly own and protect without equivocation – ERP stacks, infrastructure, and web foundations, are called out most frequently.  In this way, CIOs can better manage the entropy effect and allow for freedom and flexibility for other functions to safely add new elements without risking disruption.

Business functions need freedom in a controlled environment

Paramount to a CIO’s success is defining and defending, at all costs, the core system, while also allowing sister functions—e.g., accounting, public affairs or marketing—independence to operate outside of the core when needed. But where do we start? CIOs must have a clearly articulated and enforceable architecture—and then proactively outline guidelines to manage how and in what ways applications – cloud or otherwise – from different business areas connect into the core.

Spend time on process

As Intelligent Technology increasingly becomes the norm and organizations move to the cloud, government agencies will have to make critical decisions around processes. New applications and updates hit the market daily, and it’s human nature to want to run after the shiny, new toy in the room. As such, CIOs need to know when to say “no” and to do so without reservation. That’s not to say that CIOs should never say “yes,” they should or there are larger issues at play, but there does have to be a healthy, smart balance. If a CIO can’t say “no” when it makes sense, the entropy concept discussed above is a very likely scenario.

These are some of the most exciting and disruptive times that CIOs have ever faced…and I think the future will only be even more so.  Embrace it. Don’t let the death of the old “information technology regime” become a burden. In fact, by sticking to these three fundamental tenets, CIOs can position themselves and their businesses for success: 1) define, design and defend true core technology, 2) highly enable freedom at the fringe for sister functions and 3) strictly manage architecture and the approval process to ensure functionality, future growth and adaptability.

Guggemos is chief information officer at Insight Enterprises, a Fortune 500 technology company that works hands-on with the federal government’s choice of intelligent technology products, services and solutions.


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