MEET THE EXPERT:
Ben Vaught is the Director of Onvia Exchange, a data sharing and intelligence network for cities, counties, states, school districts, transportation districts, utilities and other municipalities. Through Onvia Exchange, Ben helps government entities drive innovation and data-driven procurement practices. Prior to Onvia Ben served as Senior Advisor to the Washington State Chief Information Officer, where he led multiple innovation and strategy efforts including authoring the state Innovation Exemption, led program management for the creation of a new state agency, Washington Technology Solutions, and helped more startups and new businesses win contracts with state government.
Historically one of the healthiest markets in government contracting, IT can expect continued growth in the value of purchasing along the lines of recent years. Smart governments will continue to bet big on technology in 2017 - to guard against cyber threats, streamline operations and, ultimately, deliver more value to the citizens they serve.
Four noteworthy forces will be at work that affect the way technology is purchased and utilized in state and local governments:
1. THE EVOLVING ROLE OF IT IN GOVERNMENT
Over the past decade private sector CIO’s have moved from the back office to the boardroom, as information technology shifts from providing services to solving problems. In government the same transition is happening, as administrators and elected officials feel the pain of inadequate citizen services and outdated core systems. These public sector leaders increasingly look to government technologists to do more with less, bring antiquated systems into the modern age, and serve their constituencies at a level of service expected by a generation used to Amazon, Airbnb and Uber. This is a tall order. Savvy IT sellers recognize the plight of government technology leaders and offer solutions that work for the buyer, their authorizing environment, and the citizens they serve. Looking forward to 2017, government technology leaders will continue their shift from service provider to business enabler. They will seek strategic relationships with sellers who can help them clearly demonstrate the value – at all levels – that investments in IT generates.
2. CYBER SECURITY BLOTS OUT THE SUN
As the last few years have taught us, every organization – and every individual – has become a target for cyber attack. For government officials, it can feel as if the odds are hopelessly stacked against them. They must safeguard some of the most sensitive data maintained by any organization, spanning mental health records, financial information, court records, identity protection and much more. To make this arduous task even harder, much of this information is housed in outdated, vulnerable systems that simply cannot withstand the complexity and sophistication of today’s cyber threats.
For this reason, more than any year before, this is the year that cyber security “blots out the sun,” in the words of one state CIO. More and more government buyers will be asked to articulate and defend the cyber security posture of new IT purchases, often requiring alignment with federal, state, or government-specific standards. More governments will ask for – and receive in greater frequency – funds to replace old and vulnerable systems under the guise of cyber security concerns.
State and local governments will leverage national cyber security resources, particularly those provided by the Department of Homeland Security and the Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center (MS-ISAC). Regional alliances will also see increased activity, as governments unite to identify and defend against cyber threats.
3. AGILE IN GOVERNMENT COMES OF AGE
Ever since the whiz kids from Silicon Valley helped save HealthCare.gov from its initial launch failures, governments large and small have been rushing to adopt Agile development. 2017 will see a continuation of this trend towards Agile adoption. However, some progressive governments will get even more savvy with Agile. They will recognize that, in some cases, it pushes the technology buyer towards custom development in order to boost value and increase certainty of a fully usable end product while improving collaboration and stakeholder satisfaction. The key for buyer/users is having the intelligence to know when to use agile vs. traditional waterfall approaches. The wisdom part is in knowing when to custom build a solution that satisfies 100% of your requirements vs. buy an off-the-shelf solution that gets you 80-90% of what you need. There will inevitably be pushback against custom development from within the agency. Governments struggling with the high costs of custom-built legacy software are loathe to repeat the mistakes of the past. Smart technology companies will recognize and address this confusion and uncertainty among the decision-makers they interact with.
4. STANDARDIZED RISK MANAGEMENT AND ASSESSMENTS FOR CLOUD SERVICES
Governments like to manage risk. When it comes to cloud services, however, all the innovation and value they bring must be weighed against a measure of risk that seemingly changes as fast as the technology itself. Government buyers can’t afford to evaluate each new cloud service individually, so increasingly they are turning to outside sources for help – reaching out to their peers and, increasingly, pooling resources.
FedRAMP (the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Platform) was started to pool risk management and assessment resources for federal agencies. Now a CSP (Cloud Service Provider) can go through the rigorous federal vetting and security assessment process once, making them eligible for most uses across the rest of federal government. Agencies can also monitor the penetration of CSPs across other federal agencies.
Risk and authorization management pools are emerging at the state level as well. Many states centralize their processes for CSP authorization, and an increasing number of cities, states and municipalities leverage this work.
Many of the most expensive and complex solutions are justified on the basis of saving money over the long-haul and making government more efficient. This motivation will continue in the current slow growth and challenged fiscal environment. Some spending is forced or compelled based on new standards or the high risk of not doing it (i.e. cyber and upgrading failing older systems). Finally, other IT projects are sought based on a need to please increasingly sophisticated citizens and pursue the vision of responsive, digital government. Forward-thinking agencies find they can’t afford not to participate.