Governments Need to Re-tool the IT Workforce (Again)

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Leaders should encourage change agents, and those government workers will need to develop and maintain certain skills and capabilities.

As governments transform to better serve tech-savvy citizens, the need to modernize systems is paramount.  For government workers, there is a growing need for new skills to drive this transformation. We are seeing tech-savvy professionals play a significant and growing role in figuring out what data, algorithms and insights are needed to improve service at the moment of truth: when a citizen connects with government for help or to comply with a law.

We are in the early years of the digitization of organizations, a major IT disruption. And these are the most exciting times to be an IT professional who becomes an agent of change. We have hardly completed the last IT wave in which only a few governments ever fulfilled their needs for agile developers. Now, organizations are shifting away from agile as a focus for their IT workforce. As government applications move to the cloud, there is increasing focus on “server-less” and “cloud native” computing—applications built using web services, mini-services and micro-services to marry data to business logic. For the immediate future, this low-/no-code approach is rapidly replacing the need for a government agency to build and maintain software code.

Government leaders often call for wholesale workforce change, arguing that salaries and training budgets limit access to key skills in demand. That generally comes with too little focus on existing government employees who possess aptitude and desire. Digital government will require engaging workers at all levels who want to be part of the change versus their becoming irrelevant. Leaders should encourage change agents, and those government workers will need to develop and maintain certain skills and capabilities:

  • Skills in cloud computing and software as a service will continue to be in demand, with an emphasis on hybrid solutions that include Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and other platforms.
  • Experience in DevOps and organization change management to make agency leaders and program owners comfortable with getting their IT as a service rather than a capital asset.
  • Management of diverse teams made up of AI experts, data scientists and innovative product specialists who can answer political leaders’ questions such as: What data do we need? How do I find or acquire it? Are we using data to best fulfill our mission?
  • Expertise in the area of mobile, augmented reality and machine learning applications that offer unique benefits for government.

Regardless of the latest tech skills, communication and collaboration skills are at the heart of successful outcomes. IT leaders—whether team or project leaders—are challenged to converge understanding of tech with understanding of government organizations in order to specify exactly how cloud computing can improve mission results at lower costs. IT projects are still at risk due to constantly shifting requirements and inter-dependences across existing and new workflows. The ability to communicate options and clarify benefits, cost and risk is crucial to success. Success requires collaboration between multiple stakeholders to make sure decisions are timely and well made.

Freeing up tech-savvy workers from the constraints of day-to-day IT operations is important. In many governments, individual talent is being focused on innovation to address government mission and business needs, while IT-as-a-service is obtained through performance contracts. In this model, the cost of service is made visible so that savings can be identified and used to reinvest in needed initiatives. Some leading digital government agencies use policy-area clustering, which allows data from siloed systems to be melded for insights to better serve citizens, predict and scale for future needs, and achieve cost and performance transparency across the government. In addition, this approach makes it easier to address citizen usability concerns about agency versus citizen-centric government, like having to go to multiple websites for service.

Of course, government can benefit from new workers and suppliers, as well as internal change agents. There are multiple and varied paths that government organizations can take on their transformation journey. The foundation for these initiatives are IT professionals with a broad and current portfolio of skills and leaders who can work successfully in multi-disciplinary teams; are flexible and adaptive to change; and are open communicators receptive to new ideas to solve today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

Mark Forman, former U.S. Administrator for E-Government and Information Technology at the Office of Management and Budget (2001-2003), is global head of Public Sector at Unisys. This article was originally published by Nextgov.

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