The departments of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs are transforming IT infrastructures to strengthen cybersecurity, telework and virtual services.
“We need to have resilient and strong IT infrastructures to support this new environment that we’re in,” said Gary Washington, CIO at USDA, at a media event.
Modernizing systems and leveraging emerging technologies are enabling the workforce to effectively work remotely, Washington said, but bolstering collaboration is also needed.
Following the mass transition to telework, cybersecurity threats increased across government, especially in light of the major SolarWinds breach, Washington said.
“There’s an emphasis on securing the endpoints and ensuring that our employees are secure in their remote locations,” Washington said. “It’s great that, as a government, we came together so quickly. People were able to not miss a beat and continue to perform their day-to-day activities.”
The VA has also driven similar initiatives, having spent the past few years developing its digital transformation strategy that helped the department quickly respond to the sudden demands amid the pandemic.
“We were able to quickly pivot our priorities to establish telework capabilities, as well as scale up our telehealth solutions for veterans that now needed to access healthcare in a new way,” said VA CTO Charles Worthington.
Plus, productivity increased, Worthington added. Instead of developing new tools, VA matured current systems and processes, and many of the core investments in VA’s infrastructure and service delivery capabilities accommodated the rapid change in requirements.
“In some ways, this was an equalizer. Now, everyone was working from home, and even the people in the field were in the same calls and using the same tools as employees in different environments,” Worthington said. “It provided a good opportunity for us to build connections across the country in a way that was potentially more difficult when we were all together.”
Moving forward, Worthington said VA will work to keep that synchronicity, even as it begins to move back to the office. USDA also has transitioned to new communication tools that can be used regardless of location, Washington added.
“USDA has become more analytical. We’re emphasizing the use of data more, and people are sharing the analytics. We’re transitioning to this environment where we’re making decisions based on the same source of truth with data,” Washington said.
With these rapid changes, security is still at the forefront of development. VA, for example, is increasingly leveraging zero trust models to support more telework, Worthington said.
“While it’s very important to protect your information, what you want to have, and what we have at VA, is a team that’s really leaning forward and proactively identifying new approaches to leveraging new techniques that could allow us to use these tools more effectively,” Worthington said. “That’s thanks to an all-hands-on-deck effort.”