Deputy Federal CIO Roat Applauds Pandemic-Era IT Culture Change

Reflecting on tech progress during the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat advocated for IT transformation culture changes and sustaining modernization projects in the long term to keep up the momentum for Federal IT improvements.

“The pandemic really shined a big spotlight on what the Federal government could do in an emergency and how quickly it could respond,” Roat said at MeriTalk’s Lessons from OMB: Speed, Collaboration Drive Pandemic Transformation webinar on August 6. “One of the things that we want to do is continue that dialogue about how we fund this sustained transformation.”

Roat explained that large modernization projects often falter because of the time and flexibility required to manage the momentum. One way to overcome this barrier, she recommended, is recognizing that coordination between all levels of government, vendor partners, and other organizations involved in government modernization can help sustain progress.

“The Federal government doesn’t work anymore in silos … so we really have to keep that entire ecosystem in mind,” Roat recommended.

Todd Schroeder, director of global public sector digital strategy at Google, agreed that changing the culture around IT projects is an impactful way to sustain modernization. He said that the pandemic throttled the culture of reluctance to change that can stop organizations from realizing efficiency and cost-savings benefits of transformation.

“There was really an impressive need and interest to try things differently, to take different kinds of risks,” Schroeder said. “Lo and behold, when everyone was very wedded to getting that change done, the change happened,” he added.

Roat cautioned, however, that a culture change requires action. “As far as culture goes, you just don’t say we’re going to change the culture, you change the culture by doing things differently,” she said.

For example, Roat said that the pandemic may cause the Federal government to phase out paper signatures. As printing and scanning paper documents was put on hold during the switch to telework, many agencies quickly adapted to virtual e-signatures. Paper signatures may become a thing of the past, Roat asserted, because the culture around signing documents was changed out of necessity to accommodate the new work environment.

Alongside the culture changes to support IT modernization, Roat once again recommended the Technology Modernization Fund, working capital IT funds, and moving to the cloud as key transformation drivers. She reiterated that early cloud investments at her former agency, the Small Business Administration (SBA), supported the agency’s emergency loan portals and website scalability.

Learn more about flexible funding vehicles like TMF in this issue brief.

“We moved very fast and we would not have been able to do that had we not moved to the cloud and made all of those investments over the last three plus years,” Roat said.

Phil Fuster, Senior Director of Public Sector at Rackspace Technologies, added that the benefits of past tech investments paying off during the pandemic wasn’t unique to SBA. From his experience working with both state and local and Federal agencies, cloud has been an important investment when managing the pandemic-era tech environment.

“Every agency has a mission outside of being an IT specialist, and leveraging the cloud has been one of those things we’ve seen move the progress forward during this crisis,” he said.

Katie Malone
About Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.

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