A younger federal workforce could influence tech choices

Federal agencies must weigh the value of adopting innovative technologies with the added expense of securing them, said panelists at Federal Computer Week’s Government CIO Summit in San Diego earlier this month.

The panelists discussed the challenges posed by younger workers who want to use low-cost or free services, such as instant messaging applications, on government-owned computers. They said those newer technologies often run afoul of agencies’ personal use policies and introduce new information security and privacy vulnerabilities.

Cora Carmody, executive chief information officer at Science Applications International Corp., said young employees often take a technological step backward when they enter the workplace. They are often disappointed when they don’t find wireless connectivity, for example.

Instant messaging might be a novelty for some older workers, but younger people see it as an everyday tool for multitasking and increasing their workplace productivity, said David Sullivan, vice president of information technology at Hampton Roads Transit, a transportation company based in Virginia.

Instant messaging has an advantage over conference calls, said Vern Bettencourt, the Army’s deputy chief information officer. Unlike conference calls, people can log and save message chats for future reference.

Barry West, the Commerce Department’s CIO, said agencies can’t ignore new technologies and must learn to use them to their benefit.

The panelists said some federal agencies have created personal use policies for instant messaging, suggesting a growing comfort level with newer technologies. 

Adrienne Spahr, co-chairwoman of the Young Government Leaders, an organization of young public-sector workers, said younger employees can help older ones adapt to new technologies.

“Young people are influencing technology to some degree because they have grown up with and use it every day,” she said.

For example, Spahr said that at the Government Accountability Office, where she works, employees are beginning to rely more on videoconferencing, teleconferencing and secure meeting software to collaborate with people at different locations. “There are fewer and fewer barriers to working with people in different locations and time zones,” she said.

Newer technologies create a more efficient workplace, but they reduce face-to-face interactions, Spahr said. “For young staff, that can sometimes mean less mentoring and on-the-job training,” she said.

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