Visionary planning for IT modernization: The key to next-generation IT services

Michael Marshall is a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton for Federal Health Market IT Modernization and Transformation. This blog was coauthored with Nikul Pandya, principal at Booz Allen Hamilton for Federal Health Market Cybersecurity, including Zero Trust concepts.

Technological advancement today is accelerating at such a pace that we need to think anew about how to modernize. This rapid pace of advancement — as well as the convergence of these advancements — makes it challenging for any large, complex enterprise to continue thinking of modernization as a single, isolated technology upgrade or refresh.

Instead, we are now entering an era of visionary planning for continuous innovation.

Consider how artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced data analytics, 5G networks, the Internet of Things, automation, cloud computing, and Zero Trust cybersecurity are steadily transforming virtually every sector, including federal healthcare organizations. We see remarkable advancements unfolding almost daily in telehealth, genomics, precision medicine, wearable technologies, and digital twins — to name just a few arenas of progress — that are rapidly changing the world of medicine and healthcare.

To better position themselves for these rapid technological advancements, some federal healthcare agencies are moving toward the adoption of next-generation IT services.

NGITS are versatile, adaptable infrastructures and engineering/operations that can incorporate new mission-advancing technologies and business processes into the enterprise as they emerge in a thoughtful, integrated way.

An NGITS approach to modernization strives to balance two separate lines of endeavor. First is to continuously optimize existing engineering and operations, ensuring they are secure, cost-efficient, effective for the mission, and calibrated for the end users. Second is to continuously plan for the introduction of next-generation technologies and services where and when business and mission needs dictate.

This is a challenging balancing act, and there are many components that factor into accomplishing this. These include simultaneously standardizing processes; automating processes; and improving processes through the use of IT Service Management and Information Technology Infrastructure Library methods coupled with Zero Trust cybersecurity ingrained from the start of the program, cost avoidance throughout the program lifecycle, and continually keeping an eye on the future.

While all these components of modernization are critical, this last one — continually keeping an eye on the future — can be particularly important when navigating such a rapidly evolving IT landscape. An effective way to do this is to visualize the future in a quite literal way.

To accomplish this, we recommend leveraging an innovation roadmap. 

Innovation roadmaps provide specific modernization tactics for use by federal agencies. These multi-year plans define overlapping phases of technology evaluation, testing, pilot projects, and new technology implementation layered over an agency’s existing infrastructure and its support environment including engineering and operations services, organizational components (people, partners, suppliers), and processes. 

Importantly, the roadmap should also reflect and link to the agency’s mission and business needs (e.g., anticipated cost improvements for specific infrastructure engineering or operational needs), as well as to end user expectations, to ensure that all modernization activities are properly prioritized and aligned.

The roadmap serves a vital role, which is to assess the NGITS infrastructure and its support environment in total, view it over three to five years, and illuminate where specific modernization activities can deliver the greatest value for the enterprise’s mission and business objectives.

Such a roadmap helps ensure that all activities are properly aligned and integrated, that risks are minimized, and that returns on the agency’s modernization investments are maximized. 

Specific benefits to a healthcare related program of this planned modernization approach includes:  improved efficiencies and productivity from a better functioning infrastructure, enhanced patient safety and security of their private information, better secure information sharing among health professionals for more accurate diagnosis results, and the ability to more comprehensively identify and treat medical conditions.     

An innovation roadmap for an agency’s Enterprise Local Area Network, for example, might detail in a graphical way a quarter-by-quarter modernization plan stretching out over five years that covers all ELAN infrastructure, services, and operations. These could include E-mail, collaboration tools and services, networks, databases, domains, operating systems, server virtualization, security, storage, file and print services, backup, and so on.

The roadmap should reflect the status of infrastructure, engineering services, and operations today — indicators such as total cost of ownership, capability gaps, security risks and vulnerabilities, priority pain points, and others. But it should also map suggested modernization activities to the agency’s business and mission needs so they can be viewed as an integrated whole.

This helps the organization see the big picture: What products and services are deployed today, what innovations are coming which should be evaluated, how specific modernization activities will move the agency closer to its broader goals, and when decisions should be made about their implementation.

For federal health agencies, the future will continue to be dominated by change and complexity. In an era of continuous innovation, modernization can never stop.

An innovation roadmap offers agencies an effective and adaptable tool that agency decision makers can use to visualize how this continuous modernization might take place while ensuring that it is well-integrated, balances near-term optimization and longer-term transformation, and is driven by agency business and mission priorities.

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