Technology leaders in government are focused on maintaining critical citizen services during the pandemic, but the crisis is shuffling priorities to create more resilient organizations that are ready for what’s next.
As 2020 began, we were anticipating a milestone year of progress and unprecedented technology opportunities ahead. In just a few weeks, the entire world and our country were gripped with the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Many have called this pandemic the battle of their lifetime. We are reminded of a quote by our 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy:
“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.”
The world will not surrender, and it will not submit. We will persevere to fight this virus and get back to normal. But perhaps a better way of thinking about where we're headed is as the "next normal." State and local governments are experts at providing services to their citizens, but the next normal of how that will be done is taking shape in real time. Technology is front and center in the way that government provides critical services to citizens. To prepare for the next normal, governments must think about how needs will evolve in the immediate term, mid-range and long term.
The immediate needs of government center around the ability to communicate with citizens and their internal team. Providing accurate and timely information to citizens helps limit fear in the community. Governments are using every tool in their toolbox: websites, social media, online forums, etc., to provide the latest information about the spread of COVID-19. Communicating to employees is also critical to calm the uncertainty around what will happen to their jobs.
Equally as important as communication is the need to ensure a solid, safe, and robust ability for teams to work remotely. In a time of social distancing, keeping government workers working remotely is a must. Critical applications like unemployment eligibility are being stressed with the new volume of citizens needing assistance. The most important immediate needs for government are accessibility, connectivity, and capacity. Governments must be accessible to the citizens, connectivity must be robust to ensure proper communication, and government’s capacity to deliver services must be strengthened.
The mid-range needs of government will be about realigning everything they do today with the next normal of operations. A realignment with government leadership will be required to reassess previous COVID-19 plans and their impact on pressing changes related to people, process, and technology. It is critical that the role of technology in this crisis play a part in that planning and realignment. Processes, especially for remote work, will need to be updated to ensure mass remote work is possible in the future. The next normal of remote work will demand policies that protect the workers and the government. Technologies must shift to accommodate remote work in a safe and secure environment, and cybersecurity protocols must be reviewed and altered to meet the realities of the next normal. The skill sets of the technology team will need to be assessed with an eye toward growing and developing skill sets to effectively meet the changing environment. Current contracts also need to be reviewed and future contracts need to be assessed to enable the supply chain to meet the needs of government.
The long-term needs of government must include modernizing and strengthening technologies, to enhance disaster recovery, support the need for continuity of operations, and ensure delivery of essential services. After COVID-19, governments will no longer be given a pass when it comes to managing services during a crisis with outdated technologies. In the next normal, the people will not stand for service limitations because government is perceived to be out of date and ill prepared. Technology will rise to a new value standard with leadership and getting what you need now will be at a premium. Governments used to shy away from spending large amounts of funds to prepare for what may never happen. Times are now changed forever — the next normal will require properly prepared plans. The ability to understand essential processes and personnel will be a building block upon which government services in a crisis will be built. Being ready for a crisis will not be a nice to have but a have to have.
State and local governments are amid a great battle that will rise and fall over time. An eye towards the future will be required if technology leaders are to be successful. To close our thoughts, we are reminded of another quote from our 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan:
“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”
Here’s to our brave government technology leaders of the future. Be safe and stay healthy. The people need you!