Before the coronavirus pandemic, government agencies around the world were at various stages of IT transformation. Their goals had been simple: By adopting a secure, scalable, consumption-based infrastructure, governments could be more agile in producing better mission outcomes and delivering services; they could empower government workers and engage citizens through digital technologies; and they could better earn the public’s trust by protecting government and citizen data.
When COVID-19 arrived and government operations were disrupted, it was like putting a pedal to the metal on government IT transformation. Agencies were forced to work differently, and those already on the road to transformation saw their efforts accelerate.
“We were able to shift to about 1,300 people working from home overnight,” said Jeremiah Sanders, retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force. When the pandemic struck, Sanders was Deputy Commander of the Air Force’s Kessel Run, a detachment of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center charged with delivering combat capabilities and software applications. “We had already instituted cloud-based shared services, network security, and collaboration tools…that gave us the elasticity we needed,” Sanders said.
Sanders, now a federal strategist at VMware, shared his experiences during VMworld 2020 in the session “Government Insights: Roadmap to Government IT Transformation” (OCTO 1224).
Government leaders worldwide are adapting. Joining Sanders during the panel discussion were Neill Smith, head of infrastructure for the Scottish Government’s Agricultural and Rural Economy (ARE) Directorate and C.K. Prasad, Regional General Manager and head of IT for RailTel Corp. of India Ltd., a government agency providing telecommunication services. The session was led by Pete Romano, VMware senior director of Government, Education and Healthcare Strategy & Innovation.
“The broader Air Force had bigger challenges,” said Sanders. “They were maybe a generation behind from a technology perspective. We were worried about the lack of co-location among our software developers and business teams, but productivity actually increased in the ensuing months.”
Ultimately, the entire U.S. Air Force pivoted quickly to enhance collaboration and communication during the pandemic, Sanders said, rapidly boosting its VPN and load-balancing capabilities to support the hundreds of thousands of Air Force employees who found themselves working from home. “It was astonishing to see,” Sanders said.
Mandate for Government Transformation
According to a recent study by MIT Technology Review, 70 percent of government IT leaders said their plans for digital transformation had accelerated because of the pandemic. By some estimates, agencies’ response to the COVID-19 health crisis will shave between two and four years off transformation timelines, leading to shorter planning cycles, operational change, and an intrinsic focus on information security. To meet the moment, government agencies around the world faced a mandate to change the way they delivered IT services.
“We went from 1,000 users a day working from home to more than 10,000, so the volume was incredible,” said Smith of the Scottish Government during VMworld 2020.
Smith’s team handles everything from cloud migration and database administration, to cybersecurity and automation. When the directorate’s workers dispersed to their homes, the unit quickly spun up its video conferencing capabilities, and because the country’s ARE directorate is actively engaged with Scotland’s farmers and other rural citizens, it looked to roll out services like online chat to stay in touch with constituents when physical offices were closed.
But looking past short-term IT needs, Smith said the directorate began positioning itself better for full-fledged cloud adoption by preparing its applications to run effectively across clouds and on any device necessary.
“We started accelerating containerization [of applications] for the flexibility that would give us as we move to the cloud, in particular VMware Cloud on AWS,” Smith explained. “It’s been a frantic few months, but it has really accelerated digital transformation.”
Cloud as a Government Enabler
In fact, research indicates many government IT departments are migrating to the cloud—and not just one cloud. As the technology required to utilize multiple clouds and create truly elastic, responsive digital services continues to evolve, Forrester Consulting has found that in three years, on average, government agencies will operate applications in six different clouds. That’s double what the average government IT operation uses today, according to Forrester.
At RailTel Corp. of India, early adoption of cloud was critical to maintaining operations when the pandemic struck. The country’s Digital India initiative, launched by the government in 2015, aims to reinvent service to citizens through an improved, cloud-first infrastructure. Eight months before COVID-19, the RailTel agency had already migrated to the cloud and modernized its infrastructure, which turned out to be critical in a country where work-from-home was largely unheard of.
“COVID-19 was unprecedented,” explained C.K. Prasad to VMworld 2020 attendees. “In India, more so in the Government sector there’s no concept of work-from-home, actually. But we started the digital transformation journey some time ago…so we were able to scale quite fast.”
As India went into lockdown early in the pandemic, RailTel created 20,000 VPN accounts in 48 hours to enable remote work. Staff unaccustomed to operating anywhere but in an office—help desk employees, network and security operations center workers—were suddenly empowered to continue remotely. And like other agencies and organizations, RailTel rolled out Internet-based video collaboration services for its Telepresence customers, to support its own operations, and its mission of supplying telecom services.
“In two months, post-lock down, we delivered close to 1 million people – minutes of video conferencing and online meeting with our customers including [government] ministers,” Prasad said.
A Foundational Platform for Digital Government
When the world emerges from the shadow of COVID-19, digital transformation will have played a vital role in government continuity of operations and citizen service. It will also provide the basis for the new normal society longs to achieve.
“Many governments have recognized that a new recovery point is required and that the pandemic is driving the need to establish a new normal operating model,” said VMware’s Pete Romano. “Now is the time for change…with an acceleration of consumption-based services, an expansion of citizen-centric experiences through modern application development, continued productivity improvement with enhanced collaboration and the integration of artificial intelligence, and security that’s intrinsic or built-into architectures.”
For its part, Romano explained, VMware helps governments:
- Modernize existing systems through resilient IT.
- Manage hybrid cloud environments with transparency and ease-of-movement.
- Improve outcomes by empowering government employees and citizens with simplified, secure access to traditional and modernized applications while protecting data.
“As organizations embrace today’s challenges, everyone needs to recognize complexity will increase,” he said. “Accelerated use of multiple clouds by governments is not a future state but is here today.”
With enterprise technology in place to support transformation, government agencies will be in position to address the next challenge.
“Cloud providers will evolve, and services will change,” said VMware’s Romano, “however, the foundational platform for digital government should be consistent.”