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CISA, FEMA on how Emerging Tech Enhances Mission Delivery

Automation tools can support decision-making and should complement the workforce.

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Chief technology officers at the Department of Homeland Security say data and interoperability are paramount to successful IT modernization and cloud migration strategies, especially as IT infrastructure increasingly moves to the edge.

“Data and interoperability are really important to speeding the outcomes,” Federal Emergency Management Agency CTO Ted Okada said during a FedInsider webinar last week.

Integrating emerging technologies like automation and artificial intelligence can help create a successful “digital roadmap” to IT modernization and cloud migration, he added.

“We pay leaders to execute against uncertainty,” Okada said. “Estimation and statistical inference … how do we get better at that? The data exhaust is enormous. We have to make inferential decisions and empower not only the leaders [to] be uncomfortable with uncertainty, but not make decisions on the fly.”

Organizations who are shifting to mobile IT the fastest are the ones with clear visions of using IT to enhance mission delivery and success.

“Organizations are trying to aggregate all this data, it’s prevailing across the government, being able to provide it to people in the field in a mobile way,” said Dell Technologies’ Mahtab Emdadi. “Government organizations are not just one IT shop, it’s a combo of many different compartments and bureaus and components and they’re not trying to do a one-size-fits-everyone. They’re very flexible in their approaches and methodologies. The organization that allows for components to achieve that, and allow for flexible models, are the ones that are moving fastest.”

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency CTO Brian Gattoni said emerging technologies loom large in CISA’s IT strategy, are always carefully chosen and are integrated based on mission needs.

“We steadily invest in future technologies that relate to our mission,” he said during the webinar. “We create an annual touchstone, a strategic technology roadmap, to understand where technology is evolving and how to understand from three perspectives: how does it better enable us to do our jobs, if our customers and stakeholders adopt it, what does it do to them? And we always want to know where our adversaries are adopting technologies.”

Gattoni warned against federal agencies adopting new technologies because they’re popular or trendy. Keeping mission top of mind, he said, will help guide acquisition decisions.

“Technology is not just going to roll in and automatically work,” he said. “You have to have a keen understanding of your own self as an agency and what service you provide to optimize the use of that technology. That’s going to be key to adopting anything new from a technology sense.”

Emdadi favors new technological solutions for helping organizations make sense of their data, especially as organizations migrate to the cloud.

“Data is growing at a volume we never anticipated before, and our legacy architectures just can’t keep up with it,” she said. “Because of how fast it’s coming in, we have to think about how we’re building applications, automation, all these tools we need to bring in to react as fast as possible for mission speed. We need to start squeezing the legacy as much as we can to make room for new architectures [to handle] the volume and speed at what is coming at us today.”

Instead of adopting a new suite of new technologies all at once, Emdadi advises slowly integrating new tech as individual needs arise and as legacy IT fails or becomes obsolete.

“You seize the opportunities, whenever there is an opportunity to bring in a new service,” she said. “You find these opportunities to bring in new architectures, new capabilities [to] squeeze cost, end of support life architectures, renewal, you find these key moments where a change has to happen anyways and use those targets to springboard into a new modernization project. The importance of modernization and moving to cloud architectures, it doesn’t really matter, allow software and automation to manage your data center and focus your workforce on what you need to do to accelerate the mission.”

Okada also recommends not relying too heavily on technology. Partnerships, he said, will go farther for mission delivery.

“Until you’re completely immersed in a disaster response and with operators and survivors, your neighbor is your most important resource,” he said. “We have an enormous array of technologies, and sometimes we don’t think broadly enough about the capabilities we have, especially with the whole community, citizens and nonprofits we can partner with.”

Instead of using technology as a crutch, federal agencies should use it to support decision-making, Gattoni added. He and Okada believe leadership buy in to use technology for decisions is paramount to a successful IT modernization strategy.

“Risk-based decision-making and leadership” are the most important things Okada says he’s learned about IT modernization and new technology.

“It’s easy to fear the future — pushing risk-based decision-making through the workforce, we have to be comfortable with uncertainty, and the way we address it is through inferential thinking,” he said. “Cloud computing and the future of AI are going to help, so the quicker we get those in the hands of our leadership, the better we are going to be.”

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