In order to keep social service programs running and agencies operable during the lockdown, government leaders learned that being too cautious about updating their infrastructure had handicapped their ability to deliver on their mission.
The insights come from a series of interviews — assembled in a new report — in which agency leaders shed light on how the pandemic has accelerated their agencies’ plans to adopt cloud- and AI-enabled tools.
The report, “Pandemic Fast-Tracks Plans for Future-Ready Government,” produced by FedScoop and StateScoop and underwritten by Google Cloud, highlights agencies’ response to resolving infrastructure and scaling challenges in order to stand-up a remote workforce and better service constituents.
When millions of citizens’ lives were disrupted, they turned to the government online for answers. However, websites and other digital services weren’t built to meet these high demands. The state of Illinois, like many, modernized its infrastructure with cloud to improve the scalability of services online.
“Some of our systems were hit heavily throughout the pandemic which were not built to scale to the level of volume that we were seeing,” shared Jennifer Ricker, acting assistant secretary at Illinois’ Department of Innovation and Technology. She explains that agency leadership had to reevaluate its crisis planning, which until this point was only considered for a short-term disruptive event.
For others, the health crisis served as a reminder of having detailed scalability provisions in cloud provider contracts.
“[The crisis] absolutely validated the reason why the cloud is a great customer service, because we are able to immediately expand as our user base increases. For example, when the president tweeted out the sba.gov web address, we had an 8,000 percent increase [in traffic] within one minute. If that had been an on-premise application, which it was a year earlier, it would have collapsed,” said Guy Cavallo, deputy CIO at the time for the Small Business Administration, and now principal CIO at the Office of Personnel Management.
The interviews showed that because of the shutdown, there is an intensive push across government to phase out legacy systems faster and implement advanced technology tools that deliver services more effectively.
“While government modernization efforts have been going on for years, sometimes it takes a crisis to really move it forward with velocity,” said Lauren Knausenberger, deputy CIO of the U.S. Air Force.
She witnessed leaders being forced into a situation where they were operating outside the confines of their offices and existing infrastructure. Everyone in the organization experienced the frustration of not having modern working tools, which only emphasized the need for IT investments.
A challenge often cited throughout the interviews was a need for better collaboration tools — both for citizens and employees. Some foresee that investments in advanced collaboration tools will bring a permanent change to way the government works.
Cavallo shared that in this new remote work environment, most everyone in the SBA can complete 95 percent of their work while at home. The office shutdown has opened a door to increase the recruitment of skilled individuals outside of the Washington, D.C., area in order to access broader talent pools.
Read more from agency leaders about preparing a future-ready government.
This article was produced by FedScoop and StateScoop and sponsored by Google Cloud.