In today’s age of digital transformation, it seems that new, groundbreaking and revolutionary technologies are emerging every day. A lot of us grew up with futuristic movies capturing the possibilities of technology and what our world could evolve into. Now, with each new technological advancement, we are one step closer to dreams becoming reality.
Though there have never been more powerful solutions and capabilities within the federal government’s reach, many agencies are still grappling with how to make the best decisions for their IT modernization and cybersecurity strategies. This challenge has become even more exacerbated by the ever-increasing reliance on remote work which has led to an inevitable spike in federal network breaches.
This wide array of options represent a tantalizing ideal: modernization as an instant, wide-reaching solution to every possible need. This highlights the drive for powerful, cutting-edge technologies and solutions.
Unfortunately, modern platforms don’t always equate to secure platforms. Without a proper grasp of the technology, its possible downsides, and how it integrates with agencies’ legacy systems, modernization efforts can potentially lead to security issues, extra budgetary expenses, and wasted time that could have been spent on other agency priorities.
Tools are only as smart as their operator
Challenges with agency modernization efforts often lie in the misconception of what modernization entails. Without proper execution and planning, modernization can stall or be counterproductive. Agencies face significant risks due to the complexity of the process and the number of stakeholders involved.
Effective modernization is primarily a shift in how agencies handle processes within their organizations, including upgrading to modern architectures, containerization, cloud services, and more. However, a robust understanding of the policy and procedures that will govern those new platforms in the next generation of applications and services is equally important.
Overinvestment in modernization paired with a minimal understanding of the platform or tool is another challenge today’s government agencies are facing. This is especially true as agency employees work with generations of legacy systems that are not designed to adapt to, integrate with, or build off of modern systems, which can pose a slew of network security issues.
Today’s public sector technologies and the vast number of obsolete systems employed by federal agencies, coupled with inconsistent system upgrades and patches, represent a huge vulnerability. An effective modernization strategy is often the solution to this challenge. But without a thorough understanding of an agency’s infrastructure, platform, services, and applications, as well as how each aspect interconnects, agencies will only inherit their security lapses of the past.
If agencies take advantage of the opportunities digital transformation has created, and pair these new technologies with improved agency-wide training, comprehension, and a complete modernization strategy, they can modernize faster while saving budgets.
Modernization provides innovative technologies and techniques
Modernization challenges don’t always stem from outdated or flawed technology. Instead, they often grow from agencies coping with patched legacy systems, internal silos, compromised software, and an agency culture that does not foster collaboration. To combat these issues, agencies must first assess where they stand in terms of how they utilize solutions, staffing, training, and security. The first step for any agency on the path to modernization is to create a strategy.
- Step 1: Strategic plan with solid goals and objectives
- Step 2: Tactical plan with defined budget, timeline, risks, and performance metrics
Both plans rely on improving interagency collaboration and tapping into the right people, including stakeholders and leadership, and ensuring they understand exactly what will change and what is expected of them.
Buy-in from leadership is foundational to the launch of any modernization effort, as digital transformation requires budget and funding approval. These plans also enable agencies to take actionable steps towards eliminating modernization challenges, such as learning how to staff properly from a security standpoint and the need to improve cybersecurity hygiene.
Improved cybersecurity hygiene plays a critical role in making modernization feasible for agencies. Given cybersecurity threats facing the public sector today, agencies need automated solutions and capabilities that can detect, analyze, and respond to threats in real-time. Emerging technologies are ready to fill this role, but agencies must proceed with caution.
AI, machine learning, and 5G are not new technologies, but they are newly matured and ready to be leveraged by agencies to lower the risk posed by new threats. For these technologies to be effective, agencies must implement a series of changes, not in the technologies themselves, but rather in how agencies use and operate their systems. These changes include:
- Strengthening access management, including limiting and understanding who in the agency is accessing what, where, when, and for how long across a network
- Understanding that security issues don’t disappear through modernization as most lapses are inherited problems
- Implementing protections for lateral movement in the event a security breach occurs
- Building a network of trusted partners with a visible, secure supply chain. Agencies often place emphasis on acquiring a product, but that alone will not provide security. The best way to ensure platform and data security within an agency is to fully understand security concepts, as well as how any tool will help with implementation of those concepts.
In 2019, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) completed a review of federal agencies’ legacy systems. This report identified the most critical federal legacy systems in need of modernization, evaluated agency plans for modernizing them, and identified examples of legacy system modernization initiatives that agencies considered successful. Key issues included:
- Continuing use of outdated coding languages
- Allowing unsupported hardware and software
- Operating with known security vulnerabilities
- Lacking complete plans for modernization
- Reducing the agency threat surface
- Shifting legacy code into a modern programming language
- Moving legacy software into the cloud
- Identifying and documenting complete modernization plans
Modernization can help agencies meet the challenges of digital transformation faster and cheaper. The federal government sits on the tipping point of technologies, as many innovative solutions and products have matured to the point of being effectively leveraged. Quest offers agencies the ability to utilize these technologies fully, with an emphasis on integration and comprehension of the current legacy systems. The early phases of modernization focused on pushing for the latest and greatest, rather than planning for how new technology could best support and work alongside these legacy systems. The future lies in integration.