IT innovation thrives in the United States, where there’s an affluent economy, well-developed infrastructures, a plethora of world-renowned universities and free markets that encourage entrepreneurship. Many advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), drones, the internet of things (IoT), digital twins, robots, virtual reality (VR) got their start in the U.S. As IT innovation accelerates, citizens and employees grow accustomed to information and delivery on-demand and expect the same response times from the government.
The U.S. government is striving to meet these escalating expectations with IT modernization mandates that focus on improving IT agility, speed, performance and resilience at lower costs. To get there, many federal agencies are looking to tap into commercial innovation without sacrificing security and other special requirements. In fact, in a recent survey of 212 Federal IT executives, nearly half (46%) would like Congress to enable public-private dialogue on IT best practices.i However, balancing these goals while trying to stay aligned to changing IT modernization mandates is no easy task.
A quick timeline of changing IT modernization mandates
The U.S. government’s IT modernization journey may have had its beginnings in the E-Government Act of 2002 which established a Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but it’s come a long way since then. Here’s a quick timeline of some digital government milestones:ii
2007: OMB releases a directive announcing the implementation of Trusted Internet Connections to optimize individual network services into a common solution (50 connections or less) for the federal government.
2010: The 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management was released, introducing the idea of “cloud first” for the federal government. The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) was also enacted in 2010 to reduce the number of Federal IT data centers around the world and shift IT investments to more efficient platforms and technologies.
2011: The Cloud First Policy was shared in 2011 to accelerate the pace at which the federal government realizes the value of cloud computing.
2013: The Open Data Policy was shared to ensure the federal government manages information as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote openness and interoperability.
2014: The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) was signed into law. FITARA requires agencies to provide regular reports and metrics against their data center optimization goals. The Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA) was also signed into law to enable OMB to provide overall guidance and policy for government-wide cybersecurity.
2016: FDCCI was superseded by the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) which re-focused efforts on reducing data center footprint while leveraging best-in-class security and performance innovations.
2017: The Executive Order on Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure was released.
2018: The Cloud First Policy was superseded by the Cloud Smart Strategy and the National Cybersecurity Strategy was released. The Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT) was also enacted. All of these continued to emphasize transitioning to modern platforms and technologies, like cloud computing, while ensuring that cybersecurity protections are in place.
2019: The final Federal Data Strategy and Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence (AI mandate) were released.
Common themes help to simplify changing mandates
It’s a lot of change to keep up with as each administration introduces new policies and directives or updates to old ones. But there are some common themes and goals in the drive to achieve greater efficiencies, cost savings and security in Federal Government IT. For example:
- Consolidate: Eliminate duplicate services and processes, reduce footprint and cost.
- Embrace shared services and data: Find ways to share IT platforms and services. Manage data as an asset.
- Innovate: Tap into commercial IT platforms, technologies and innovation to accelerate IT modernization, improve services and maintain U.S. leadership in key areas such as AI.
- Protect: Ensure that federal IT assets and data stay safe with best-in-class cybersecurity.
Getting to modern IT faster
Federal agencies will continue to face changing mandates, as well as other challenges like spending limits. By keeping these common themes in mind, agencies can design interconnected distributed IT architectures that will meet government guidelines for agility, speed, security and resiliency at lower costs. Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™) best practices, outlined in the U.S. Federal Government digital edge playbook, offer a proven roadmap to success. An IOA approach enables agencies to optimize networks, simplify hybrid multicloud complexity and distribute security controls, and data and analytics to the edge, while addressing specific mission needs and requirements.
As an example, an agency concerned about sensitive data could implement a hybrid cloud architecture to establish secure, direct connectivity between its on-premises and cloud environments, as well as to other clouds and networks across the globe by leveraging Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™). Sensitive data can be stored in an on-premises environment in government-owned data centers or an Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) government-grade data center. Non-sensitive workloads and data can be migrated over time to public clouds for improved cost effectiveness and flexibility. By leveraging ECX Fabric the agency could easily connect all its offices, as well as partners, through a single portal. Once the data is at Equinix, it’s fast and connected with no vendor lock-in. If the agency wants to use one cloud provider or carrier today and another one tomorrow, that’s easy to do on Platform Equinix®, which includes more than 2,900 cloud and IT providers and 1,800 network carriers across the globe. Government network providers that provide contract vehicles such as GSA EIS, Networx and WITS are also part of the interconnected government ecosystem at Equinix.
The ecosystem matters for another reason – partnering to help agencies operate at the speed of mission. Recently a large civilian agency needed to move out of a building within a few months. Partnering with Verizon, we were able to move that agency into an Equinix IBX data center very quickly. Now that the agency is in an Equinix data center, they’re beginning to understand the power and flexibility that an interconnected digital ecosystem of world-class providers and organizations can offer.
Learn more about enabling an interconnected government.
You may also want to watch the replay of the following webinar:
The Federal Executive Forum’s Data Center Optimization in Government 2019 where government IT leaders and industry experts discuss the challenges and opportunities around data center optimization, actual progress, lessons learned and their vision for the future.
[ii] Report to the President on Federal IT Modernization, 2017; AWS, A Cloud Timeline: U.S. Government’s Modernization Journey, Aug 2018; Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer, Finalized Policies, Open Data Policy, FITARA, DCOI Policy, MGT Act; Whitehouse.gov, Presidential Executive Order on Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure, May 2017; U.S. Dept of the Interior, Cloud Smart Strategy; National Cyber Strategy of the United States of America.
Federal IT executives who'd like Congress to enable public-private dialogue on IT best practices.