Seeing Past COVID-19: Questions for the Next Normal

Thinking about the next chapter of government technology raises questions about how IT strategy will change to advance modernization plans, including the adoption of permanent work-from-home arrangements for employees.

by Teri Takai and Phil Bertolini / May 8, 2020

During these challenging times, we must now focus on how the world will take shape in the future. We are asking questions about everything as if we were planning it for the first time, questions like, will we ever enjoy large gatherings again without worrying about catching something? Will our economy be sustainable during multiple periods of crisis like we are enduring today? Will government operate as it did before COVID-19? What will government do to continue to provide much needed services? What services will return to the way they operated before the crisis? What services will change? People will ask these types of questions well into the foreseeable future. 

We, at the Center for Digital Government, are thinking through what those next steps will be – what will the "next normal" look like and how will it impact government moving forward? We believe that next normal is a perfect title as we discuss the next chapter of government technology. We expect that governments will realign their future strategies which will in turn require reassessing the status of current projects in the government technology portfolio. Leaders will be pushing for modern technologies that will enable a remote workforce and provide more digital services to citizens. Networks will need to be modernized while governments will push to move more to the cloud or software-as-a-service offerings.

The first step will be to get government back into operation. Governments will be grappling with many other tough decisions as they emerge from the crisis. These decisions will have significant impact on people, processes and policies that will drive the technology. As governments begin to restart their operations, they must plan on how to bring back a large remote workforce into their physical environments while adhering to public health guidelines like social distancing. Most government facilities are built in a legacy model where people are stacked into smaller spaces utilizing cubicles or desks in open areas. Many government processes are older as well, including how they use paper for functions and queuing up citizens in lines to access services. Processes will need to be updated, and many will need technology to aid in their modernization.

Technology decisions are happening fast and furious as governments emerge from COVID-19. Governments have had to modernize their capabilities to enable remote work, and a hybrid of on-premise workers and teleworkers will become the next normal. Future buying decisions on laptops and mobile devices will change. Networks will need to be modernized to ensure proper connectivity while keeping cybersecurity at the top of the priority list. What will the new technology priority list look like to support remote work post-COVID-19?

Underlying all the decisions CIOs must make are the government policies that have developed over many years and in many cases, have restricted government’s hard moves to a digital world. Legacy record retention statutes and statutes that define what an official public record is, have serious implications for how the next normal world of telework will function. A concerted effort will be needed to modernize federal, state and local laws to ensure the future of government work is modernized.

An important part of this changing next normal is the need to re-evaluate current contracts and partners. If current projects come into question and leadership changes priorities, this will impact partners, especially when there are contract timelines to either be met or cancelled. Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, government technology leaders will execute on new projects that align with the new direction of government. Existing partners that have built solid, lasting relationships will be in a prime position to bring solutions to problems. Partners wanting to engage will have an opportunity to share solutions and build relationships. The question begging to be answered is, what are the new initiatives and partnerships of the next normal?

As governments begin to re-energize their futures, there are many questions to answer that will tax the resources and skill sets of government technology leaders. Government will be rolling up their sleeves, ready to do the hard work. I am reminded of a quote by Dale Carnegie:

“Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”

Doing the hard job is not new to government, but the job just got a bit harder. We are with you and ready to help. Go get 'em!

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