The COVID-19 pandemic forced government agencies to innovate much more rapidly with their IT systems, and now Federal leaders are planning how to continue that momentum beyond the pandemic.

During today’s Resiliency Colloquium event organized by MeriTalk, ACT-IAC, and the Partnership for Public Service, panelists on the Resiliency Efforts on Innovation breakout session all agreed that the urgency of the pandemic helped them to tackle new problems and use approaches they may not have been comfortable with before.

“It certainly was the catalyst for us to really accelerate a lot of our modernization efforts already,” Jack Galvin, the associate deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) said during the event. “Pre-COVID we had about 45,000 teleworkers at any given time, and that quickly ballooned to about 150,000. We had to scale very rapidly, so it really helped us accelerate our modernization and it’s really here to stay.”

Sanjay Gupta, chief technology officer at the Small Business Administration (SBA), said innovation for any organization ultimately comes down to three things: challenging the status quo; leadership and culture; and investing in technology modernization.

Chris Haas, a strategic business executive at Google Cloud, agreed that leadership and culture are key to developing a safe work environment that fosters IT innovation.

“Cultural innovation, organizational change is, I think, more critical for adoption of innovative technology than the technology itself,” Haas said. “Adopt a faultless culture. If you want people to innovate, then you need to give them the space to try something that might not work, might not pan out the way it expected.”

Adding on to Haas’ point, Gupta encouraged agencies to collaborate “across the agency landscape,” to learn from one another, and to “fast-forward” their IT modernization approach.

“I’ve had a lot of success collaborating with OMB, DHS, GSA, and other agencies because there’s just so much we can share amongst each other and learn from each other,” Gupta said. “We all don’t have to go through the same exercise but we can learn from each other. Collaboration is the one thing I would say we all need to do a lot more about and at all levels.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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