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COMMENTARY | The technology infrastructures many governments have weren’t built to handle the traffic they experienced during the pandemic. Here's how to meet fluctuating demand.
The events of 2020 made it clear that delivering a good customer experience to citizens isn’t just preferable, but necessary if federal, state, and local agencies are to achieve their public service objectives. The pandemic caused disruption among many services, particularly at the state and local levels, requiring agencies to scramble to modernize and ramp up their digital transformation efforts in a short period of time.
Now, the federal government is accelerating efforts to make information about vaccinations and payment protection loans easily available, and state agencies are striving to streamline access to unemployment benefits and other services. All of this is being done while many people are still working and living remotely, without easy access to in-person services.
As these efforts ramp up, agencies must implement strategies that allow them to deliver a fast and reliable user experience. Let’s take a look at two key strategies agencies should embrace as they seek to deliver exceptional citizen experiences in 2021 and beyond.
Augment IT Infrastructures to Meet Fluctuating Demand
The infrastructures many government agencies had in 2019 weren’t built to handle the amount of traffic organizations experienced during the pandemic. Consider how visits to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and IRS sites increased dramatically last year. While this level of activity is unlikely to continue as we emerge from the pandemic, citizens have certainly become accustomed to interacting with agencies online, and organizations need to be prepared.
Migrating infrastructure to the cloud is a good and necessary first step. The cloud provides significant scalability, flexibility, and security advantages over traditional network infrastructures. Many agencies were already on that path prior to the pandemic and accelerated their efforts in 2020. Those efforts must continue in the months and years ahead.
As those efforts continue, agencies should also carefully monitor network traffic and performance, including application response times and availability. This will allow IT managers to identify potential bandwidth concerns and bottlenecks as they occur, or even make adjustments to address predictable traffic spikes (such as around Tax Day, after the issuance of new Covid-19 guidance, or during the health care open enrollment period). They can then proactively tackle these issues to ensure their services continue to run smoothly and deliver the experiences citizens expect.
Implement Modern Methods and Embrace Emerging Technologies
When agencies think about emerging technologies they tend to focus on things like artificial intelligence and machine learning. And while those technologies are certainly important and will become increasingly prevalent in the months and years ahead, there are other options, including software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs) and containers, that agencies should consider as they accelerate the pace at which they introduce new services to their constituents.
SD-WANs are abstracted from traditional network hardware. They provide administrators with great visibility into application performance and the ability to easily prioritize data traffic for certain types of applications (for example, bandwidth-heavy services involving video can receive more resources as needed).
Containers are open-source technologies that allow developers to abstract applications from their runtime environments while packaging applications with all of their necessary components, including storage and data elements. Containers are highly portable and can be easily moved between environments, which allows their applications to be developed and deployed very quickly. Indeed, agencies that are interested in expediting the delivery of new applications and services should certainly consider container technology.
Of course, as government agencies begin to implement these technologies, they’ll need employees to manage them. That hasn’t always been easy in the public sector, which still tends to lose out on talent to the private sector due to concerns over compensation. But recent studies have indicated that employees are being driven more by a desire for flexibility or better workplace benefits. There may be opportunities here for government agencies to compete in these areas and attract the talent required to take their citizen services to the next level.
Moving to that next level will become increasingly important in our technology-savvy society. Everyday citizens use iPhones, shop on Amazon, and watch Netflix. They expect all of these things to just work. Now, they expect the same from their government agencies. No one wants to sign onto a federal or state and local website and have their request time out after 20 minutes.
To keep this from happening, agencies must invest in modern infrastructures, technologies and methodologies. This investment will allow them to deliver reliable, fast, and exceptional citizen experiences.
Brandon Shopp is vice president of product strategy at SolarWinds.