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As Federal Funding Arrives, Look to the Back Office

During a recent discussion of how to “Fast-Track Government Modernization with Federal Funding,” participants examined the sometimes-overlooked back office.

Cloud computing
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IT has been nothing short of vital during the COVID-19 pandemic ¯ and in a recent webinar, participants emphasized the importance of looking beyond the front end of how residents now experience government to keep the back office running well.

A key issue, obviously, is connectedness: Back-office processes typically supply a foundation ¯ good, bad or indifferent ¯ for many other endeavors. During “Fast-Track Government Modernization with Federal Funding,” public- and private-sector technology leaders highlighted best practices to keep in mind when considering how best to capitalize on federal and state funding streams activated by the pandemic.

“We know as agencies look at budgeting cost control initiatives and they look for new opportunities to operationalize new funding, that back office is coming into the crosshairs of governments across the country,” said Dustin Haisler, e.Republic’s* chief innovation officer and the session’s moderator. Among the takeaways:

  • Don’t be afraid to start small and dive deep. As with other agencies, the pandemic placed an increased load on his organization’s back-end processes, said Pratik Desai, IT manager for Los Angeles County’s Superior Courts. Ultimately a decision was made to migrate from on-premise Oracle databases to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. But going beyond a mere rebuild required much thought because “those are essential systems, back-end systems that our customers were using,” he said. Agility and elasticity were attractive targets in the new era of default remote work, but the government needed to understand cost, complexity and risk. So, Desai said, it did a “sizing effort to understand” the cost potential and its complexity. Officials also did a small proof of concept to get familiarized with the cloud, and did “aggressive testing to mitigate the risks.”
    “This bolstered the confidence all around,” Desai said, noting that setting realistic expectations helped empower execution. “And at the end of our journey, we are happy to report that we are now an efficient, effective and modern electronic environment.”
  • The gains can be multifaceted. Migrating to the cloud, Desai said, delivered many “softer benefits,” but in a larger sense, “we became a more electronic platform with a newer architecture than our legacy architecture.” Having more modern architecture in the cloud also made the back-end system more robust and highly reliable, and strengthened the disaster recovery posture.
    “This cloud platform helped us holistically to address that,” Desai said, pointing out that the current environment provides high availability of data to the systems.
  • A different financial model may be appropriate. Transitioning from the traditional model of up-front capital investment (CAPEX) to one centered on continuous operational investments (OPEX) provides flexibility in the cloud, Desai said. It’s easier to avoid under- or overprovisioning via service on-demand and scalability to the real-time needs of the business. “In this COVID environment, that can be very, very useful, as there are so many dimensional changes happening in the business processes where you might need to add capacity on the fly,” he said. Similarly, costs are distributed, but support comes from one vendor instead of many. Plus, said Desai, the cloud delivers “great tools” that supply “self-service model totals” to communicate ongoing costs and make projections possible – rendering the total cost of ownership “very transparent.”
  • Partnerships are essential, Desai said, as they eliminate anxiety from staff as they deal firsthand with the change. As with any IT project, getting the basics right – people, process and technology – can help the entire initiative. Similarly crucial is fostering change management to secure buy-in from stakeholders who may not fully understand the process.
*e.Republic is the parent company of Techwire and Government Technology magazine, which presented the webinar.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.