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Tech Modernization Requires Equal Attention to Process, People

Federal technology teams need to balance people, process and tech within the mission.

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Tech Modernization Requires Equal Attention to Process, People
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A comprehensive discovery process is the foundation of any modernization effort. Technologists not only build an understanding of the technical side of complex environments, they must also understand the people behind the processes.

Federal agencies operate in complex hybrid-cloud ecosystems. For instance, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides health coverage for more than 100 million people through Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Health Insurance Marketplace. Many of these programs still rely on legacy architecture to operate. To streamline the user experience, for both its workforce and its customers, CMS has been moving its business processes strategically to the cloud.

“We want applications to benefit from the wealth of tools that are coming out of industry right now,” said Greg Kreymer, chief technology officer for the CMS program at Leidos. “A lot of what we focus on is enabling that application mobility. How do we get them to become lightweight systems that can then go choose a different hosting environment? That also enables more interoperability and allows more systems to connect with one another, to start leveraging different data analytic tools that may not have been accessible to them in the past.”

The key to modernizing an environment is to stay rooted in communication, according to Leidos experts. With hundreds of applications managed by different business owners and application development organizations, collaborating with those stakeholders is critical to the modernization process.

“You have to have a good foundation in empathy,” said Reyes Vera, enterprise cloud service manager at Leidos. “We really have to understand what people have on their backlogs. What are their visions for their projects, for their applications, for their services? Gaining a thorough understanding of that allows us to work with them more collaboratively and establish that flow so that we can work together toward a common goal.”

Collecting both quantitative and qualitative data during the modernization process is critical, Vera said. This includes baselining what the application is and who it serves; collecting information on the technical aspects, such as software stacks, hardware stacks, and application dependencies; becoming familiar with business rhythms, such as user volume, critical hours of operation, geographic distribution; and understanding the goals and challenges of the team supporting the application.

Collaborating with the teams is especially critical to contributing to an innovation-ready culture.

“What we want to understand are pain points,” Vera said. “What are the barriers and obstacles that have prevented modernization or led to an application manager saying, ‘We just want to stay in this steady state, and we just don’t want to impact our users. Please don’t touch, don’t break.’ We understand why that mentality exists, and we’ve worked hard for the past 18 months or so to instill the confidence in our customers that modernization is the path to take for a better user experience.”

It’s important to communicate that modernization isn’t undertaken for modernization’s sake. Instead, it is designed to enable the user base in delivering its mission.

“I think of it as, if I live in a home next to a river that I have to cross, I have to drive 50 miles down the road to the bridge,” Vera said. “It works, it’s steady. But if there’s a new bridge that’s built right outside my house, now that enables me to get out quicker. I can go do things faster and more efficiently. … And that’s what we want to do.”

Enabling users also means keeping sensitive data secure during modernization activities. Leidos operates a DevSecOps approach and ensures that security is rooted in its processes from end to end.

“Security is always paramount, especially with the set of data that we work with,” Kreymer said. “The three major tenets of security — confidentiality, integrity, availability of data — that’s always at the forefront. By working with our security team and our customer’s CISOs and ISSOs, we help evaluate and support the governance process of those security controls.”

At the end of the day, successful modernization is driven by the people and processes, not the technology.

“It is in the culture shift as much as it is in the modernization of the applications,” Kreymer said. “In the three pillars of IT you have people, processes, and technologies. What becomes critical here in the modernization aspect is really the people, the processes. The communication and the collaboration and enablement of those to really drive and steer the modernization effort. If you have the people and processes aligned, then everything else follows.”

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