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On June 6 – well before the All-Star break – more than 200 public sector IT leaders met at the Washington Nationals baseball stadium to hear about digital transformation in the U.S. government. Despite being a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, I found the event at Nats Park to be a wonderful opportunity to touch base with peers, exchange ideas and learn about IT modernization best practices from an all-star lineup of speakers.

In case you missed the event, here are seven key takeaways.

Successful digital transformation starts at the top

Enlisting your heavy hitters is one key to victory with any IT modernization project. Alfresco CTO John Newton cited Forbes Insights research finding that the CEO or another key senior executive is three times more likely to lead digital transformation among best-in-class organizations who are making this shift.

This advice was echoed by other speakers including Tim Crawford, project manager for FOIAonline, who observed that “high-level support is essential” for success. Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman, head of IT modernization efforts at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described it humorously as “what the boss likes, the employees are enamored with.”

Design thinking delivers better business results

Design thinking is a brand-new ballgame for many and drives better outcomes. Often, government employees struggle to find the information they need to do their jobs, driving down productivity. Simply digitizing existing systems without considering end user experience is not the solution. When put into practice, design thinking methodologies deliver solutions that put users first.

Mark Patrick, who leads the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s information management team, summed up the byproduct of design thinking as “workers being able to focus on working” versus struggling to use technology tools provided by IT.

Open thinking dominates today’s software industry

Projects powered by proprietary vendor solutions typically take years to get approved, accredited and deployed, often only to find out that they do not by then deliver what you and your users expected. They can also eat up as much as 80% of your budget in maintenance licensing costs and are prohibitively expensive to customize on an ongoing basis.

Embracing open technologies (based on open source, using open standards, with open APIs) allows you to tap into the collective brainpower of a community of thousands of developers and use proven components that can easily be integrated with existing systems and extended as needed. John Newton pointed out that even vendors such as Microsoft and Apple are turning to open source to accelerate innovation. He explained that open does not equate with less secure and that emerging technologies such as open source artificial intelligence are in fact safer than proprietary versions because no one vendor controls them.

Platform thinking accelerates the pace of IT modernization

An open platform with reusable service components allows you to build intelligent solutions that improve IT agility. Alfresco combines process automation, content management, and information governance services into a modular and highly customizable platform that eschews proprietary code.

Within the platform, distinct functions can be upgraded and scaled independently of each other. According to IT services provider Armedia, this approach also provides added security. It means that you can control access to each component, avoid exposing certain components to the outside, and secure data separately.

Agile methods mitigate modernization risks

Kim Tran of the Solutions Strategy team at the GSA described the steps required to break down monolithic systems. First, you must examine your legacy applications to determine exactly why such systems were built. You need to look at the entire portfolio and assess business functionalities versus core capabilities, as well as look for redundancies that can be decommissioned.

After identifying individual components that should be updated, taking on just that bit in quick sprints of two to six weeks enable you to confirm you’re on the right track by putting it in front of users and getting feedback. Progressive iterations allow you to quickly build your solution and scale as you break down your monolithic system into a microservices architecture. With each sprint lasting weeks instead of years, you can constantly revisit the functionality and acceptance of your application and eliminate the risk of catastrophic failure upon “final delivery”.

Effective governance is invisible governance

Records management that relies on users to manually classify content is doomed to low compliance and errors. Auto-classification is the only viable answer.

According to Armedia, “End users don’t want to think of RM; they are busy doing other things.” Connecting governance, together with process and content makes information governance invisible. Not only can classification rules be built into such a platform in an “if this, then that” sense – but when that platform is open, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms can be applied against an existing content repository to automatically declare and classify records.

Mark Patrick said that invisible information governance is essential because of the sheer volume of information that users handle. He added that “the goal is zero clicks on the part of the user.” Artificial intelligence is getting better all the time, performing tasks such as summarization (identifying the author of a document as being the same person who authored another document) and auto declaration.

Lisa Haralampus, director of RM policy at NARA, pointed out that “artificial intelligence is changing our profession, but you need to capture information in the first place or you cannot do analytics.” She added that “a measure of success means knowing what records you have created and having the right policies and tools. Good RM means identifying ROT (information that is redundant, obsolete and trivial) and getting rid of it. Maturity implies managing data access and disposition.”

The cloud is not only cost effective but also more secure

Mark Patrick encouraged government CIOs to step up to the plate, saying that “fear of the cloud is not justified. The cloud is, in fact, more secure.”

Accreditations such as FedRAMP take the guessing out of selecting a highly secure cloud solution. Many agencies have already made the move, including those in the intelligence community. Some even host their critical applications in the cloud ahead of non-essential systems in order to benefit from the additional layer of security. Dan Kasun, senior manager of public sector at AWS, remarked that “cost was perceived as the main benefit of the cloud. Today, security is one of the main arguments for choosing it.”

Navin Vembar discussed the GSA’s innovative Data-2-Decision system that is hosted in the cloud. He pointed out, “With the cloud, the infrastructure is already there, so you’re further along. You can use what you need and get more if required. You don’t need to worry about getting the wrong infrastructure because you don’t own it. You can go from capex to opex.”

Lisa Haralampus of NARA noted that “the cloud helps by bringing scalability; it is the future.”

Experiment with a proof of concept

In summary, the Alfresco Government Summit was packed with interesting information backed by in-the-field experience. Click here to download our Government white paper: Advancing the Digital Flow of Government Business.

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