David Egts, director and chief technologist of the Red Hat’s North American public sector, recently took part in a recent Q&A session with ExecutiveBiz regarding the impact COVID-19 has had on government technology initiatives, how public sector agencies can adapt to the current environment and how open source technology might be the key to adapting to an uncertain future.
Egts will be featured as a panelist during Potomac Officers Club’s Secure IT Modernization in Today’s Environment Virtual Event on August 26th. Click here to register for the virtual event to learn more about how to evolve and adapt quickly in crisis to ensure global accessibility and connectivity.
You can read the full Q&A session with David Egts below:
ExecutiveBiz: Tell us a bit about your background and your work in the public sector.
“I’ve been working with public sector agencies for years, both in my role at Red Hat and in informal capacities working with various government-focused technology groups. At Red Hat, I lead a team that’s dedicated to helping public sector agencies realize the enormous benefits that come from working with open source technologies. I’m also an active member of the AFCEA DC Emerging Technologies Working Group and speak regularly on topics like hybrid cloud, blockchain and artificial intelligence.
I have a real passion for helping government organizations achieve their mission objectives through the use of innovative technologies. Often, those objectives are more than just modernizing their IT infrastructures and application development processes. Sometimes, they’re focused on just being more efficient, streamlined, and adaptable. We’re seeing all of those come into play right now in the current environment.”
ExecutiveBiz: Speaking of the current environment, as we begin to move into this ‘new normal,’ what are some of the primary concerns you’re hearing about from government agencies?
“I see three types of customers. First, there are organizations that are experiencing contracting markets–think the travel industry. Then, you have businesses that are having trouble keeping up with skyrocketing demand. The video conferencing industry is a great example. Finally, there are those somewhere in the middle just trying to weather the storm. They’re not shrinking, but they’re not growing, either.
I find that public sector organizations fall into all three of these groups. For instance, social service agencies are seeing unprecedented demand. Meanwhile, budgets remain tight and will undoubtedly be getting even tighter. Still, people need government services, perhaps now more than ever. So, while government agencies aren’t likely to reduce their headcount, they’re not necessarily going to be hiring, either.
Many agency employees are working in reduced capacity environments. Some are working from home, but some are still going into the office. Office workers supporting the intelligence community, for example, can’t go to a pure work-from-home environment; they need people in offices, even if those buildings are only at half capacity at any given time.
All of this means agencies need to make the most of what they currently have and look for ways to maximize efficiencies wherever possible. That’s probably the biggest concern.”
ExecutiveBiz: Can you tell me about the role automation will play, both today and in a post-pandemic world, and how it might impact government workers?
“Many government IT personnel were already overworked pre-COVID; it’s even worse now when they’re being asked to do more with fewer people on site. When you’ve got half your workforce out or working remotely, or stretched thin working on a number of different initiatives–many of them unplanned and new–you need to automate.
In fact, I would say that automation has gone from “nice to have someday” to “absolutely essential right now.” Automating routine tasks can free up the workforce to focus on higher-value projects that address the needs of the mission and improve service delivery.
Contrary to what some may think, automation isn’t about replacing employees; it’s about helping them work smarter, not harder, and empowering them to spend more time focusing on the things that really matter the most. Automation can take over the mundane tasks that IT professionals must deal with everyday, allowing them to focus more on value-added activities.
As automation continues to minimize the need for rote tasks, IT professionals will have more opportunities to learn new skills. For instance, there’s a ton of demand for cybersecurity professionals in the public sector. That can open up a lot of doors for people who might be looking for new challenges. Agencies can lead these efforts by teaching professionals how to apply their particular skills to cybersecurity and providing them with the appropriate support and learning environments to help them thrive. Everyone wins.
In fact, I would encourage people to use this time to sharpen the saw and learn about new technologies and processes, like agile development, DevOps, and containers.”
ExecutiveBiz: Government agencies like predictability, even more than private sector organizations. But as we continue to venture into uncharted waters, what tips do you have on how to handle this unpredictable environment?
“Now’s a great time for IT leaders to assess their current infrastructures and look for ways to modernize their technologies so they can deliver better value. You don’t have the budget for expensive proprietary software that locks you into a rigid environment.
Now, more than ever, you need openness and flexibility, because we really don’t know what’s going to happen next month, let alone next year. A few months ago, no one was really too concerned about the scalability of their benefit enrollment systems. Now, that type of project is probably being put front and center. Things have changed, and will continue to change–quickly. You need to be able to easily adapt.
I recommend standardizing on an open substrate that supports a wide range of technologies, including the operating systems and container platforms used by different cloud providers, and enables you to easily use the right tools and technologies for the workload at hand, like edge computing. You can lift-and-shift applications between public, private, and hybrid clouds so you can take advantage of their unique benefits, including elasticity, pricing, and capacity. It’s much easier to do all of this if you build applications on open platforms like Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat OpenShift, rather than a closed, proprietary platform or legacy virtualized infrastructure.”
ExecutiveBiz: Speaking of Red Hat, how is the open source community, and Red Hat specifically, preparing to help government agencies meet the challenges that lie ahead?
“We’ve already done a lot during COVID-19. We’ve expanded our digital training offerings, provided free training for furloughed workers and job seekers, and extended the support life cycle of several of our offerings so customers do not have to concern themselves with upgrades while they are managing other priorities.
As far as the open source community and Red Hat is concerned, as they say, we’re all in this together. We are major contributors to several open source projects and work closely with open source communities to make those projects easily consumable and more secure for government organizations.
We then bring those open source technologies to customers in ways that meet our customers’ requirements – with long lifecycles, world-class support, a broad portfolio of certified solutions, and more. For example, we provide automation capabilities through solutions like Red Hat Ansible to help them manage remote systems and network devices and free up time-starved workforces.
It means giving them platforms like Red Hat OpenShift, an enterprise Kubernetes platform that is built on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and, as such, enables applications to span all of their IT footprints, including virtual machines, bare metal, and public, private, and hybrid clouds, and edge devices. Red Hat OpenShift also enables the use of containers to expedite application development so agencies can create new applications as needs change.”
ExecutiveBiz: How can agencies plan for the next crisis?
“Like Yogi Bera said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” A few months ago, no one would have predicted COVID-19, yet here we are. Likewise, no one can predict what may happen in the second half of this year, or next.
My advice is to leave your options open. Modernize your infrastructure, and default to being as flexible as you can by building on an open substrate. Automate whatever you can, too. Have your people focus on what’s going to be most valuable, including getting a handle of the backlog of mission requirements that are undoubtedly piling up. They’re not going to go away, especially as budgets become more constrained.
To me, those are the best ways to plan for something that you just can’t plan for.”
Join David Egts and Potomac Officers Club for its Secure IT Modernization in Today’s Environment Virtual Event on Aug. 26th to hear more about these topics from him along with fellow experts from across industry and the federal sector, including Paul Girardi, assistant vice president of Cybersecurity with AT&T Public Sector, Susie Adams, chief technology officer of Microsoft‘s federal arm, Mike Hanley, chief information security officers of Cisco Systems and Zecharia Kahn, acting IT operations director of the US Agency for Intentional Development (USAID).
Michael Mestrovich, principal deputy chief information officer for the U.S. Department of State (DoS), who will serve as a keynote speaker. Click here to register for the Secure IT Modernization in Today’s Environment Virtual Event on August 26th.