The rush to telework is testing federal systems

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The coronavirus pandemic is rewriting the rulebook for federal telework, and network managers are having to keep pace. The "new normal" being forged by the response to COVID-19 will require smarter data sharing and cross communication between agency mission leaders and top IT managers, experts said.

"The virus is testing systems," Melody Bell, associate deputy assistant secretary for resource management at the Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management, said at virtual event hosted by ACT IAC on Tuesday.

With the intense focus on telework, federal agencies are quickly learning that they have to become more flexible with remote and data-sharing tools, as well as to adapt to physical limitations, she said.

Bell said DOE is adjusting its telework practices in response to on-the-ground use.

The department is considering giving people flexible work hours so not everyone is on the network at the same time. "We're having people adjust hours and limit people on the Citrix system," she said.

"We need to change our mindset. These are dramatic times," said Mark Krzysko, principal deputy director, acquisition policy and analytics; enterprise data, at the Department of Defense.

"Change is just a constant," he said. That means agencies have to be flexible and collaborate -- systems, tools, techniques, as well as how they acquire all of those, according to Krzysko. "We need to nurture that in workforce. Things were different after 9/11, we need to be different after this."

Telework is a part of the future solution, said Bell, but so is understanding agency tools, such as data sharing and email. "Email back and forth among employees is confusing," she said. "We're not using Sharepoint to share files" effectively.

With email exchanges, participants in email strings can wind up working with different versions of email messages, which can confuse and slow collaborative work, she said.

Agencies will have to get a better handle on their data and system acquisition efforts to encompass a more comprehensive, mission-focused view, not just a view from an IT perspective, Krzysko said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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