The recent release of the Trump administration’s budget proposal sent shockwaves through government. National news coverage has focused on the striking differences between increases in defense and homeland security budgets and marked decreases -- if not outright elimination -- of other federal agencies.
Yet while the news media looks at the political ramifications from the proposal, there is another story lurking under the surface. How can the new administration keep the federal government operating at levels that citizens expect and meet the needs of reduced spending? The answer lies in IT modernization.
We are living in a sea-change moment for federal IT. It is not a change in the way the game is played -- it is a whole new game. Relic IT systems need to be rebuilt and replaced. A week after the election, I wrote that President Trump could ensure his own IT modernization moment and those words ring even truer today.
The proposed budget cuts would force federal agencies to make bold, strategic decisions in spending. Moving IT modernization forward would no longer be a luxury, but a matter of survival for certain critical federal missions. The federal government is on the precipice of a dramatic paradigm shift in its IT spending philosophy. Faced with shifting budget environments, agencies can longer afford to spend inefficiently on IT. The solution is the much-needed transition to modern cloud solutions (such as Platform-as-a-Service) that will cost less and increase security posture.
IT costs are just too high
For too long, the federal vendor community has viewed federal IT through an antiquated lens, offering federal clients outdated solutions that include hefty operations and maintenance price tags. Today, we are in the midst of a radical change; vendors that do not adapt to this new reality will die off. An IT revolution is underway, and the president’s budget will embolden agency leaders to take radical action to usher in a new era of more efficient and effective use of IT dollars.
Several years ago, I had an illuminating conversation with an agency deputy secretary that still plays in my mind. The agency was using an outdated IT system that cost more than $100 million annually in operations and maintenance -- it remains illogical that they would continue to use such a costly, ineffective solution. But it was the response that stuck with me as the official told me, “Congress will never not give me the money to keep the system running.”
That may have been the case then. It is not the case now.
Over the last two decades, the federal government has made admirable, albeit cautious, strides to modernize its IT systems. Without a doubt, federal IT still needs to undergo a massive transformation. Agencies are still relying on paper processes and old systems that consume unnecessary energy and resources. A recent report from IDC Government Insights even suggested that some agencies allocate upwards of 90 percent of their IT budgets to supporting legacy systems.
To put it bluntly, federal IT needs to change and it needs to change now. We are on the edge of a revolution in the way that federal applications can be built and managed. We should rebuild old, outdated systems on modern cloud-based application platforms to give federal IT systems the upgrades they so desperately need.
Agencies should aggressively identify systems and applications that are mission critical, yet functionally and budgetarily ineffective and untenable. FedRAMP-approved cloud-based PaaS solutions should be used to deploy new systems faster and cheaper than ever. An implementation that once took a decade now can be completed in less than two years. Deployment budgets that exceeded nine figures can be reduced radically. The ability to accomplish these big goals is no longer the stuff of science fiction. These modern cloud-based application platforms are changing industry -- in federal and beyond -- by eliminating time and money as traditional barriers to success.
The IT transformation moment has arrived
Trump's budget proposal may be the first time that many agencies have felt enough budgetary pressure to forces holistic rethinking of their manual processes, their pricey data center operations, or those old bloated and antiquated universal license agreements that continue to go to waste. Every agency, starting today, must look to the future when it comes to federal IT. The days of spending $100 million per year on outdated, inefficient systems needs to come to an end. Our federal IT future is untenable otherwise.
We do not know what the final budget will ultimately entail or how Congress will push back, but we do know that federal agencies must figure out how to stretch every dollar they spend.
For many, doing more with less strikes fear and causes panic. For me, it signals a new era. Globally, industries have moved to cloud-based platforms to maximize competitive advantage and ensure profitability in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The president’s budget will bring similar market forces to federal agencies, and we must all innovate and modernize in order to remain relevant, effective, and of service to the public.
The federal government now has an impetus to truly review its IT infrastructure and shift the paradigm to save money and improve security. You can argue this process has taken too long, but the moment has arrived. The federal IT revolution is here. Let’s get this transformation started.