Chief Technology Officer of Accenture Federal Services
Federal agencies have long suffered a reputation for being mired in red tape and far behind private sector innovation. The Modernizing Government Technology Act and accompanying Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) have spotlighted the need for change, but the truth is that TMF projects are just a small sliver of the exciting cloud modernization happening across government. Agencies are using cloud applications to make it easier for private citizens to access services, data, and other public resources.
One particularly impressive example is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which has rolled out 25 cloud-native apps. Traveling citizens now can use a mobile app to pre-fill claims forms when they are returning to the US at select airports. Users then show a code to the customs officer, who can scan the code and review the pre-filled data electronically. The app speeds up customs processing and reduces paperwork, so the citizen experience is improved, and the agency is more efficient.
Just like private sector businesses and organizations, today’s public agencies have more data and larger workloads, and both are continuing to grow dramatically. Traditional on-premises applications and infrastructure can’t support this new digital reality because they lack adequate data storage, computing power, and flexibility. Agencies are finding that the only way they can scale their operations and adjust to changes (such as regulatory updates) is in a modern application environment.
Another factor driving modernization is changing workforce demographics. Many organizations have five generations of workers: WWII generation, baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z. This is challenging because federal agencies are grappling with a wide range of technology skills among employees, and their systems don’t accommodate everyone’s user experience or expectations. Cloud systems are more configurable and adaptable, so a 50-year agency veteran with less exposure to digital systems can be as comfortable with the user experience as someone who used similar interfaces in college. You just can't do that with legacy infrastructure and architecture.
The expansion of FedRAMP regional certifications for cloud data centers—which ensure that data center security is compliant with government IT security—has also contributed to cloud adoption by alleviating fears about data risk and enlightening people about cloud security in general. In many ways, when you go to the cloud, data security has the opportunity to get better—as long as you evaluate and engage the controls that are made available by providers.
Benefits of a Modernized Government IT
As agencies move to the cloud, citizens benefit because it becomes easier to interact with the government and accomplish tasks required to access services.
Especially exciting is when agencies incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) into their applications. Citizenship and Immigration Services is one of the pioneers in this space. The agency has deployed a 24/7 chatbot called Emma that can perform a variety of value-added services for citizens. The agency has deployed Emma consistent with how the government has to act. For example, Emma can speak multiple languages, can recognize if a user provides private information, and knows how to mask private information and treat it accordingly.
Cloud applications also are making it easier and less costly for businesses to comply with federal regulations. A great example of this comes from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which manages reporting requirements for businesses related to employee health insurance and reimbursement. When new reporting regulations were introduced, small insurers found it difficult to comply because they lacked the IT infrastructure necessary to do so.
In response, CMS developers built out a kit that businesses can deploy to a public cloud and use to comply with the reporting regulations. This enabled them to be compliant without having to spin up their own infrastructure. They could essentially rent infrastructure from a cloud provider to satisfy the reporting requirement, saving time, money, and resources.
Businesses will also benefit from the recently enacted OPEN Government Data Act, which over the next three years will establish an accountable framework for making non-sensitive government data available to the public in machine-readable formats. This will help businesses become more productive and prolific because they can use the data for initiatives like predictive analytics for business planning and to uncover new product and service opportunities.
The Power of the Cloud as an Enabler
The federal government is certainly no stranger to technology, but what’s happening with cloud transformation is different than technology-driven changes in the past, such as computerization and the rise of .gov websites. The cloud is opening up government, making it far easier for citizens to obtain services and access data.
Cloud technology is enhancing the U.S. citizen experience, and it’s exciting to see so many agencies find unique ways to serve and protect.
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