Navigating the Next Normal

A resource guide for state and local IT leaders during the COVID-19 recovery and beyond.

by Govtech / May 18, 2020
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Government IT organizations are entering the next normal for their operations. As the nation transitions from the immediate coronavirus response to what comes next, state and local IT leaders face complex questions about how and where their organizations will work; how to realign IT priorities to match post-COVID realities; and how to adjust longer-term strategic planning to support evolving leadership priorities.

Where are you in your planning process for the next 30, 60, or 90 days as you emerge from the COVID-19 crisis?

The Center for Digital Government is developing this resource guide in collaboration with state and local IT leaders who participate in our Digital States Performance Institute and Digital Communities initiatives. Our intent is to provide insights and practical advice to IT leaders throughout the nation as they navigate the complex terrain of recovery.

We believe the process of restarting next-normal operations can logically be divided into three phases, falling roughly into 30-, 60- and 90-day increments. The first phase -- which involves resetting the IT organization, reviewing IT decisions made during the COVID crisis and confronting immediate IT needs -- is posted here in its entirety. The next phases are posted in outline form and will be expanded over the coming weeks.

We consider this resource guide a living document, and it will be updated continuously with new content and features -- including video chats with state and local IT leaders to share their insights and challenges -- as we undertake this process together.

First 30 Days

  1. Reset the IT Organization: Resolve employee and facility issues like social distancing, evaluate policies and actions taken during the crisis, and examine technologies across essential agencies.
  2. Review Technology Decisions: Review all cybersecurity controls and procurement decisions, and add the proper equipment, capacity and employee access.
  3. IT Actions in the Short-Term: Validate all equipment inventories including bringing remote equipment back on-premises, update asset management, ensure all contracts and procurements are coordinated, and plan for the use of CARES Act funding.

Introduction

IT leaders will face important employee, facilities and technology issues in the first 30 days of next-normal operations. Decisions made during this time will be critical to ensure a successful emergence from the crisis.

Reset the IT Organization

The COVID-19 crisis continues to have a significant impact on government employees or better said, your people. In the interest of public health, these individuals were forced into a telework environment with little or no notice and in some cases have been furloughed from their positions as the pandemic impacted the economy.

The return to ‘normal’ operations will likely happen in phases but what does that mean?

  • How will essential employees return into some sense of the next normalcy?
  • How will non-essential employees return to the work structure, period?
  • Will the physical and operational work environment be different?
  • Will remote work continue? Will it be for selected groups? For selected individuals?

These are all tough questions that will require action.

  • Government technology leaders will need to reassess position requirements immediately as priorities shift.
  • Skillsets will need to be reviewed to ensure new work functions are adequately performed.
  • Prior to COVID-19, telework was relatively rare in the public sector, but post-crisis government will likely need to adopt a hybrid telework structure.
  • We must not ignore the toll this pandemic has taken on people -- emotionally and physically. Governments must be ready to deal with health issues in all forms.

Social distancing is the primary factor in reducing and containing the spread of COVID-19. Government technology leaders must create a hybrid model that accommodates social distancing. But questions remain:

  • How will governments achieve social distancing in their legacy facilities?
  • How can government employees stay six feet apart while also providing in-person citizen services?

Leaders should consider:

  • Allowing only certain employees to physically work in buildings at certain times
  • Modeling hoteling -- an older telecommuting term -- in which people share workstations at different points in time
  • Screening employees for symptoms of COVID-19 before they are cleared to work in a physical office
  • Exploring options for air circulation and filtering to prevent spread

Numerous decisions were made during the crisis that impacted every aspect of every function. The decisions to push everyone to telework were made hastily and there may be residual impacts that will need to be addressed.

Policies structured for the old normal must be reviewed to ensure a consistent framework. Leaders should:

  • Review policies that delineate how employees may use sick and vacation time to ensure employees with symptoms have a clear understanding of their options
  • Reassess which employees are deemed essential along with what is considered an essential function
  • Look into technologies that will help deliver essential services
  • Review the technology requirements for each essential function and determine effectiveness from an on-premises perspective and the potential to deliver services digitally

The ‘return to work’ will have major organization, people and policy issues that need to be addressed. The phased approach requires leaders to examination each of these issues to provide clear direction to employees both in terms of returning but also how the organization will function as the entire workforce returns. In addressing these changes, the underlying principles will be to ensure the health and safety of employees in uncertain times.

Review Technology Decisions

Post-COVID-19 technology decisions will require an accurate assessment of the pre-COVID-19 technology plans. Government leadership will need to reprioritize functions based on the next-normal needs for services.

Reprioritizing technology decisions will require:

  • Realigning priorities and master plans
  • Realigning technology procurement processes and policies in accordance with new priorities
  • Reviewing all current procurement efforts to ascertain whether they should move forward, be postponed or be cancelled as new priorities potentially alter procurement plans

The COVID-19 crisis created an urgent need for telework equipment, capacity and access.

The need for technology post-crisis poses some tough questions:

  • Does the government have the right equipment for remote work?
  • Is the right network access available for people to work remotely?
  • Can we allow everyone to work remotely without slowing the network?

To ensure they can provide a flexible workplace, leaders should:

  • Prepare plans to acquire the proper equipment in enough quantities to supply the remote worker of the next normal
  • Consider replacing desktop computers with laptops or tablets
  • Analyze the cost benefits of changing the equipment and the risk of another pandemic obstructing employees’ ability to serve
  • Prioritize a move to virtual private networks (VPNs) -- to avoid having to utilize third party access control systems -- and adding bandwidth capability for remote workers

The technological environment for remote workers must be safe as well as efficient. Quickly pushing large quantities of employees into telework has stressed legacy cybersecurity controls and potentially created new vulnerabilities.

COVID-19 has created an environment where cybercriminals are attempting to exploit remote workers and their organizations. Leaders should:

  • Reassess all cybersecurity protocols to ensure the safety of the technologies that are provided to those that serve the public in the next normal.

The information technology organizations were the silent heroes as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded -- working against the clock to ensure that vital citizen services could continue. They were there to look for innovative ways to serve employees and citizens. But some decisions were made quickly and now require review for long-term implications. In some cases, the next normal will become the standard work environment in the future, and policies and plans need to reflect that. The good news is that the technology was vital. Leveraging the key actions for the future is essential.

IT Actions in the Short-Term

The COVID-19 crisis continues to impact government’s human and technology resources. The need to work remotely also stretched government agencies’ ability to keep a detailed track of assets, both physical and virtual.

Managing technological assets impacts several government processes:

  • In the short-term, a complete review of technology equipment, licenses and access should be completed to begin the process of acquiring what is needed in the next normal.
  • The next normal will require a hybrid mix of on-premises and telework processes to provide for continued social distancing while delivering citizen services.

The initial impact of the crisis is that many government employees were required to take their on-premises equipment home to continue working remotely. Government leaders should:

  • Consider potential viruses or issues this equipment will have when it returns
  • Implement layers of protection, scanning devices upon return when they reconnect to the network
  • Patch devices remotely if possible. If not, hard drives will need to be wiped and the operating system will need to be reuploaded. The worst case would be to bring back devices and do a DoD level wipe or even keep spare hard drives in stock and swap the drives when the device returns. If the worst-case scenario exists, this could take up to 24 hours for a large capacity hard drive.
  • Develop an enterprise approach to ensure equipment is safe and protected

Government procurement is always a germane issue after a crisis. Government leaders should:

  • Review procurement contracts and put the proper procurement vehicles in place
  • Coordinate procurements to engage the proper partners
  • Analyze the CARES Act and plan how to utilize the funds to best satisfy new priorities

Government must prepare to reopen their operations as the COVID-19 crisis passes. Looking at the issue in a multi-step plan ensures that an orderly, sequential process is undertaken. Now that government has recognized technology is the backbone of ongoing operations, they must provide the funding, people, and processes to ensure availability for the future.

The First 60 days: Developing short term IT plans

Review pre-crisis IT priorities

  • Review policy issues
  • Determine projects behind schedule
  • Review contracts and resolve issues
  • Develop interim project schedule
  • Execute on CARES Act funding

Establish IT priorities for infrastructure and cybersecurity

  • Realign staffing
  • Engage with technology partners around changes
  • Coordinate with procurement and budget offices on changes

Establish IT priorities with agencies and departments

  • Determine business impact on agencies and departments
  • Realign priorities
  • Realign staffing
  • Engage with technology partners around changes
  • Coordinate with procurement and budget offices on changes

Strengthen Relationships with Executive Leadership

  • Work with executive leadership to align technology initiatives with the priorities of governors, county executives and mayors

The First 90 Days: Realigning IT strategic planning

IT Strategic/Master Plan changes

  • Align with new leadership directions
  • Project timelines
  • Viability of projects
  • Costs for projects

IT Budgetary changes

  • Changes in capital and operating funds
  • Shifting of financial resources based on priorities
  • Funding for new plans
  • Engage with budget office and legislative bodies
  • Develop cost and operational justification for technology spend
  • Assess impact of CARES Act funding

IT Internal resource changes

  • Assess skillsets for new plans
  • Reallocate staff where needed and able

IT Contract changes

  • Timelines
  • Deliverables
  • Viability of contracts

IT Partner changes

  • Bring the proper skillsets to the new plans
  • Engage partners based on new priorities
  • Engage in creative contracting, licensing and procurement models

We would like to thank the sponsors of the Digital States Performance Institute and the Digital Communities Program for their support.

                        

         

 

This content is made possible by our sponsors; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of e.Republic’s editorial staff.

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