Experts: Changes will come fast for government IT

Executives say a new administration and new generation of workers will force government information technology to evolve quickly.

A new administration, a new generation of workers and emerging technologies will fundamentally change how government does business, according to Amit Yoran, chief executive officer of NetWitness and Richard Burk, the former chief architect at the Office of Management and Budget.

Speaking at the Government Technology Research Alliance symposium in Hershey, Pa., on Dec. 7, Yoran and Burk said government information technology is poised to change rapidly.

“It is hard to talk about the future of government IT without mentioning the pending administration change,” Yoran said. “There is going to be very significant change in mind-set and attitude around Washington, particularly around the government’s use of technology. The behavior of the campaigns and the Obama campaign’s natural affinity to use of technology will be felt in government.”

President-elect Barack Obama’s transition teams plan to create a federal chief technology office is an example of the administration’s plan to approach government technology in a new way, Yoran said.

Agency leaders need to be ready to accommodate the new IT demands to meet the expectations of the new administration and citizens, Burk said.

“The static, publish-and-browse Internet is really being eclipsed by a new participatory Web that provides a powerful platform for the reinvention of government structures, public services and democratic processes,” Burk said.

The new generation of workers that grew up immersed in digital technologies will play an important role in shepherding in this change in government IT, Burk said.

“It is a generation that thinks differently about the role of government and society and will demand increasingly speedy, responsive and customizable public services,” he said.

Yoran recommended that chief information officers and other government leaders learn what their users want and provide them those services. It is often better to enable a requested functionality than to try and block it, he said.

“So users need to share their MP3 files, they say it is absolutely, positively business critical,” Yoran said. “If you don’t enable a way for them to do it, they will enable it themselves. You need to accommodate in a way that hopefully manages risk rather than encouraging users to bypass your security efforts, because they absolutely will.”

Yoran said he expected technology development will be a part of the Obama administration’s proposed economic stimulus package.

All the technology changes will lead to new challenges for agency leaders, Yoran and Burk said. Today, at least 20 to 30 percent of applications and operating systems are developed by foreign nationals, Yoran said. That leads to security concerns in all facets of computers.

“The problems are getting worse when you factor in wireless and Web 2.0 where we are literally giving control of our content and IT infrastructure to users, oftentimes unauthenticated users,” Yoran said. “That will cause, and is causing, a series of cascading security challenges that the community has not thought through.”

As the changes to government IT take place, Burk recommends looking to private industry as a model for how to evolve.

“Network business models pioneered in the private sector hold promise for the public sector, but the unique public-sector environment means that that challenges of implementation are different,” Burk said. “While the needs of citizens cannot be met by market forces alone, the principles of this new revolution: openness, peering, sharing and acting globally, provide a powerful manifesto for public-sector transformation.”

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