As federal agencies rushed to accommodate mass telework at unforeseen levels, they faced the dual problems of connectivity and accessibility for which they were at first sorely unprepared. Many government employees accustomed to working from office desktops weren’t equipped to work from home. Some were able to rely on their personal computers to fill the gap, but without reliable access to the undersized government-issued VPNs, VDIs and networking resources, they often lacked access to necessary files and important emails. In addition, latency or security obstacles limited or blocked access to cloud-based collaboration platforms, leaving teleconferencing – without access to video – as the only communication option for many federal workers to communicate ideas.
These barriers to effective remote work forced many agencies to focus on immediate needs. Telework had until recently often been frowned upon, meaning some agencies were for the first time considering telework capable technologies out of necessity. This near-term gap approach likely prevented agencies from deploying the best solutions. Many bought more of whatever they already had to support capacity without evaluating whether it was the right technology for the long-term simply to stop the bleeding. Others built on top of dated systems that required more administration and maintenance at scale, which drastically increased burdens on already scarce agency resources.
Now five months into the pandemic, agencies are beginning to realize that temporary fixes now have the potential to become more permanent solutions. Federal telework, once had been anathema for some agencies, has gained some merit. Employees have had the opportunity to prove their trustworthiness, and many agencies are realizing that not all work requires being in an office. Now more aware of their own capacity to support telework and better informed of solutions available in the private sector, federal CIO’s and CISO’s need to take a step back, evaluate their current situation, and determine a path forward that will fulfill their missions far into the future.
As the government approaches its fiscal new year, it’s especially important that agencies consider how technology can contribute to their success in FY21. Questions to ask include:
- Will our technology solutions scale and continue to deliver over time?
- Can the current infrastructure handle massive changes? Is it flexible? Is it dynamic? Is it operationally efficient? Is it secure?
- Do we have the appropriate skill sets and human capital to support all the technological choices we made in FY20, and plan to make in FY21?
Understanding the answers to these issues is the first step toward developing a longer term telework and technology strategy.