Digital Modernization – Why Pursue It?

Mar 23, 2022 | Digital Transformation

Entry by Graham Baggett, Chief Interactive Update Systems Branch/DITD, U.S. Census Bureau

What is digital modernization? That’s a good question, and I think implicit in the question is another one. I’m inclined to ask, a la Simon Sinek, “Why pursue digital modernization?”

As employees of the federal government, we are civil servants. We are helping to fulfill our agency-specific missions. We do that by maximizing our value-adding activity and by reducing our non-value-adding activity. What is “value” in this context? It’s whatever helps your agency fulfill its mission.

So, why should we pursue digital modernization? Because, to reference Jonathan Smart’s paradigm, it helps us deliver “better value sooner safer happier.”

Better refers to quality. Continuous Integration Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipelines allow us to “build quality in,” providing fast and thorough checks of software releases that we want to provide to end users. Monitoring and observability services give us real-time insight into our applications and services to see if they are performing as expected.

Sooner refers to flow. Cloud deployments allow us to accelerate the delivery of value by reducing one of the largest time commitments of system releases: procurement. Now you can provision servers quickly and set up scalable, elastic infrastructure. No more guessing how much processing power you need upfront and then scrambling to upgrade your system if demand is higher than anticipated. Converting monoliths to micro services allows application teams to reduce dependencies and lower the coordination cost of releases.

Happier refers to satisfaction. By reducing lead time and improving system quality, we increase not only the delight of the end user, but also the developer and infrastructure staff who collaborate to deliver the systems. Robotic Process Automation allows machines to focus on redundant, deterministic tasks, freeing up staff to work on more complex, thought-provoking challenges.

So then, what is digital modernization? It is a servant. It’s a strategy of upgrading technical infrastructure, applications, and processes in service to the mission. It is a means to an end. This last point is important to emphasize because digital modernization can subtly become an end in itself. But by keeping the mission in view and prioritizing the delivery of mission-fulfilling value, it will help you know which modernizations to pursue, which to delay, and which to forgo.

Happy modernizing!