Network, infrastructure management essential for federal IT services going forward

As consumers increasingly turn to IT services in virtually every aspect of life, they naturally come to expect a similar level of capabilities and convenience from the public sector. State and federal governments, well aware of this trend, are taking steps to meet and, in some cases, even exceed these expectations. But progress has been inconsistent, and the road ahead is not entirely clear. While significant strides have been made, there are a number of aspects of federal IT infrastructure that are holding back future development of government IT services.

A recent report from Brocade and Market Connections highlighted the extent of this challenge. As the study made clear, the federal government will need to consider new resources and strategies in order to improve its network and IT infrastructure management if it hopes to continue to develop high-quality IT solutions for increasingly digital constituents across the country.

"Fewer than 15% of agencies can deliver world-class digital services."

Network limitations
The study, unveiled during the recent Federal Forum 2015 in Washington, included insight from 200 IT decision-makers representing more than 60 federal agencies. Among these participants, fewer than 15 percent said that their departments are currently capable of delivering world-class digital services, due to insufficient network infrastructure. 

"Networks based on traditional IP technologies limit an agency's ability to take advantage of the incredible innovations that are happening in IT, an evolution that IDC calls the 3rd Platform," said Rohit Mehra, vice president of network infrastructure at IDC. "These advancements can enable dramatic improvements to the way agencies can securely deliver digital services to citizens, military personnel, government employees and veterans."

The problem, according to Anthony Robbins, vice president of federal operations at Brocade, is simply that the federal government has yet to modernize its networks. 

"The legacy networks used in government today were conceived two decades ago and were never designed, or even envisioned, to handle the types of digital services that are required today," Robbins explained. 

Evolving trends
The study further found that despite these limitations, federal IT services are indeed advancing significantly. Four-fifths of survey respondents said their agencies have deployed virtualized services on their networks. These include load balancers, routers and firewalls. 

"The federal government must do more to keep pace with evolving IT trends."

As noteworthy as this is, though, the federal government will need to do more in order to keep pace with evolving trends. For example, a Gartner report determined that the rise of the digital workplace is the top government IT trend now developing. Throughout the public sector, agencies' employees are increasingly turning to digital solutions, as are the constituents they serve. Government leaders need to make sure they have the IT infrastructure and networks in place to account for this digital growth both internally and externally, or else they will increasingly run into problems in the coming years.

Moving forward
Given these considerations, it's incumbent upon federal leaders to develop strategies to accommodate the expanding role that IT is playing in the public sector. But there are a few obstacles standing in the way of such efforts.

The most obvious of these is money. The Brocade and Market Connections survey found that 55 percent of respondents cited budgetary constraints as a top concern as they strive to improve network simplicity, scalability and agility.

Another key issue is expertise. More than 40 percent of survey respondents said their agencies lack the expertise to effectively implement network upgrades.

Fortunately, this issue is fare more easily remedied than the lack of funding, as departments can turn to third-party infrastructure optimization and IT service management providers for guidance, leadership and the implementation of new strategies. With such expertise, agency leaders can be far more confident as they take steps to significantly improve their IT capabilities.