One of the most distinguishing things about our federal government is its broad scope of services. No other institution is responsible for doing so much for so many, so quickly, in an ever-changing landscape. No other institution must respond simultaneously to such a breadth of challenges that have only been amplified over the last few years.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, many federal agencies kicked their digital transformations into high gear to help enhance public services, embrace a remote workforce and better secure data with trust and transparency. While positive momentum on modernization grows, so does external pressure as citizen expectations rise and new threats multiply.

However, it’s difficult for federal agencies to harness the potential of technology and data within a legacy IT infrastructure that struggles with data fragmentation, a lack of interoperability and vulnerability to cyber attacks. Uneven budget cycles and challenges focusing dollars on modernization compound these factors.

The US government’s IT modernization efforts are still lagging, especially when considering the improved productivity, speed and lowered risk that cloud computing offers to help address the security and citizen service challenges impacting trust in government today.

Congress and successive administrations have acknowledged these challenges with mandates like the recent Customer Service Executive Order. Last year’s Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act (P.L. 117-260), the recently released National Cybersecurity Strategy and the federal zero trust mandate require agencies to prioritize system and data security.

IBM has built a diverse ecosystem of partners to help government effectively use the cloud to address these challenges. Bringing government solutions derived from an ecosystem of partners is critical because no single IT provider can solve today’s government challenges alone. We continually evolve our partner ecosystem in response to public sector challenges, bringing forward collaborative teams from a full spectrum of industry players from global cloud service providers to small businesses.

From this perspective of partnership, IBM offers five recommendations for federal agencies to use the cloud to accelerate modernization:

  1. Think hybrid multi-cloud first. Hybrid cloud is the only infrastructure and application development framework that’s flexible, adaptable and elastic enough to support the variety of programs and services needed today. Therefore, agencies should not orient modernization toward a single cloud service provider, nor should they always rely entirely on the cloud.
  2. Support the mission out to the edge. Edge computing is a strategy for securely extending a digital environment out to the user. Americans expect to engage with government via their phones and tablets. The military needs global access to data and intelligence systems in remote locations. Government workers must deliver services in remote health clinics, far flung national parks and border control stations. Government accomplishes its mission “on the edge,” and we must secure applications and data where the mission is happening. Cybersecurity should be baked in from the initial design to maximize seamless risk mitigation and to minimize the end user burden.
  3. Reorient incentives to modernize business processes, not infrastructure. We must deemphasize counting data centers closed each year, or which legacy applications shift to the cloud. It’s not just about technology, it’s about improving citizen services, security and enabling the mission. Agencies should prioritize optimizing business processes that impact service and how work is done. Federal IT budgets and score cards should incentivize this.
  4. Apply an open ecosystem approach to improving how work is done. The challenges facing government can’t be met with just one company’s tools. Federal agencies must work with multiple cloud and infrastructure vendors to demand interoperability. Agencies should focus on solutions by challenging vendor teams to help redesign how work is done. To emphasize this, cloud infrastructure contracts should be expanded to encourage partner ecosystems to deliver cloud native solutions as services. Whenever possible, build once and use everywhere.
  5. Streamline FedRAMP certification. FedRAMP is the default federal information security requirement. Congress recently reaffirmed its importance by passing the FedRAMP Authorization Act (P.L. 117-263). However, it remains far too difficult to move cloud solutions needed to modernize through FedRAMP certification. In fact, some see FedRAMP as a major hurdle. FedRAMP must become fully automated, the sponsorship burden reduced or eliminated, approvals must reciprocate between agencies, and the FedRAMP Program Office must be funded on par with its role supporting modernization. 

IBM looks forward to continuing to expand our collaborations within our partner ecosystem to support the digital transformation of government even better through connectivity, partnerships and open technologies. Success is a team sport. We are confident that working together as a collaborative ecosystem of partners, there is no challenge to which we cannot rise together.

Learn more about IBM Consulting

More from Government

Modernizing child support enforcement with IBM and AWS

7 min read - With 68% of child support enforcement (CSE) systems aging, most state agencies are currently modernizing them or preparing to modernize. More than 20% of families and children are supported by these systems, and with the current constituents of these systems becoming more consumer technology-centric, the use of antiquated technology systems is archaic and unsustainable. At this point, families expect state agencies to have a modern, efficient child support system. The following are some factors driving these states to pursue modernization:…

7 min read

Tech is evolving, so must the ecosystem

2 min read - Federal government leaders are asking questions such as, are we ready for quantum? Are we integrating artificial intelligence (AI) and automation effectively while protecting privacy and IP? These challenges are real, and the answer is, not fast enough. As we have asserted over the last year, our government’s challenges are systemic. Systems problems require industry to work together, differently. IBM’s ecosystem approach is designed with this in mind and built to proactively integrate on behalf of federal agency missions, respond…

2 min read

How AI and automation are helping America’s Internal Revenue Service better serve we the people

2 min read - The delivery of public services by the government continues to evolve as citizens increasingly look for more personalized and seamless experiences. The last three years have acted as a tailwind, further pushing the demand and forcing government to rethink their service delivery models. The Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) tax return processing function, the quintessential citizen service that touches every American household, is a powerful example of the innovation that can come from viewing public services through the lens of citizens.…

2 min read

Let’s build a new era of sustainability

3 min read - The next pressing issue facing regional and local governments is the environmental impact on our dangerously deteriorating infrastructures. Throughout the world, civil engineers are sending a clarion call to repair our stressed and aging infrastructure before we face another looming disaster. That’s why we created IBM® Maximo® for Civil Infrastructure. The problem Over the past few decades, governments have spent trillions of dollars to build civil infrastructures — modern superhighways, breathtaking bridges and even smart sidewalks that collect data about pedestrian traffic.…

3 min read