Government modernization puts the focus on outcomes

Doug Averill,

Digital transformation (DX) and modernization are not just about technology. According to Pega’s CEO and Founder, Alan Trefler, what really makes a modernization project successful is empathy – understanding what your end users need and expect, then designing your project around that knowledge. This is not only important for solving complex operational problems, it’s central to delivering effective and powerful constituent services and creating a successful roadmap for transformation.

At Pega’s 2019 Government Empowered conference, leaders from some of the largest and most complex U.S. agencies shared their insight on successes and lessons learned with government modernization programs. We learned how to initiate a program by tying the agency’s mission to project and program outcomes, then gathering input on the changes needed to improve experiences for both staff and constituents. We heard about stakeholder buy-in, collaboration, involving end-users from all levels in the design and development process, sharing knowledge, and how big results can be achieved through an agile, iterative approach. We’ve highlighted the presentations from our agency guest speakers, below, and invite you to watch the video replays of all the conference presentations in more detail.

The U.S. government’s vision for modernization: A discussion with Federal Chief Information Officer, Suzette Kent

I sat down with Federal CIO Suzette Kent of the Office of Management and Budget for her thoughts on government modernization and insights into how the U.S. government is approaching a massive amount of needed legacy system upgrades.

Funding the best technology and practices – Federal agencies are seeking to leverage technology to help deliver on their missions while being effective stewards of taxpayer money. The Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT) of 2017 has been helpful in establishing an IT system modernization and working capital fund that provides longer-term resources. This multi-year funding is important because transformation projects can extend beyond annual government funding cycles.

Every project funded has some element of “every government” benefit – The goal is to develop solutions that can be applicable to other agencies, plus take those project learnings and make that collective knowledge available to the benefit of other agencies.

Collaborating and working in an agile manner – It’s important to bring people into the project who have a deep understanding of the mission and the needs of the constituencies being served. A mix of internal staff knowledge and external technical expertise can create effective public / private partnerships. Collaboration between agencies is also beneficial. Additionally, a partnership between the CIO and the CFO is very important.

Government systems need to be nimble – Government systems need to adapt to rapidly evolving technologies and security threats. One way to do so is broader sharing of information between government agencies and critical sectors outside of government. As government looks to adopt technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, or other intelligent automations, initial applications should be low risk. It is the government’s responsibility to maintain citizen trust by ensuring privacy and security regardless of technology.

Don’t forget, people are at the core of every discussion.

U.S. Census Bureau – using digital technologies to streamline data collection, foster participation, and provide accuracy

The upcoming 2020 U.S. Census is one of the largest, most unique projects that the government undertakes. It will require 2.7 million workers collecting information in 13 different languages throughout every city, town, and county in the U.S. The data will affect the number of representatives each state will have in Congress as well as the distribution of more than $675 billion in government funds for critical programs. It has an absolute-can’t-miss, hard deadline of December 31, 2020. And it’s constitutionally mandated.

Getting an accurate population count is critical, and the way the federal government goes about collecting that data has changed with the times – ever since the first census in 1790 managed by Thomas Jefferson. According to Stephen Buckner, Assistant Director for Communications for the U.S. Census Bureau, gone are the days where a family would happily fill out a census questionnaire and mail it back because the government asked them to. Increasing distrust in government and a highly mobile population are just two of the challenges that affect response rates and are reasons why the Census Bureau is looking toward digital technologies to help achieve an accurate count.

New ways in which tech will be used for the 2020 Census include aerial image detection software to update and validate addresses; web-based self-response sites; integration with voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant; mobile apps for door-to-door data collection on iPhones; cloud data storage; and real-time tracking of field workers. The Census Bureau has built out both the web self-service and the mobile field service apps on the Pega Platform™ to leverage Pega’s case management, integration, and real-time data tracking and reporting capabilities.

The technologies and capabilities they’ve chosen reflect the outcomes that they need: response data from an estimated 330 million people, accurately collected and tabulated within a condensed timeframe. The Census Bureau is also focused on the dissemination of this data, creating robust APIs so that public and private organizations can access and use it once published.

  • Learn more about how the 2020 Census is impacting your future in this short video.
  • Learn more about one of the many technologies behind the 2020 Census here.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation – leveraging rules-based technology to automate transactions

One of the many areas of responsibility of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is providing criminal background checks for firearms purchases. Their National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) services 30 U.S. states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. As Mark Allen, Chief of the NICS Strategy and Systems Unit, explains, the goal of the system is to help make sure firearms don’t fall into the wrong hands. This is the ultimate outcome for which their system is designed.

NICS integrates with the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system to search criminal history information for each firearms purchase. For approximately 70% of purchases, no additional investigations are necessary beyond criminal history checks. But for the remaining 30%, the FBI has to investigate further. By law, they have three days to complete these investigations, even during peak sales times, such as hunting seasons.

To generate accurate investigations in a timely manner, the FBI applies a number of defined rules to the analysis of any identified criminal charges. The state, type of charge, date, and other important data are parsed out, classified, and then evaluated as either an arrest or court action that is non-prohibitive to the sale of a firearm or are identified as prohibitive and routed to an investigative subject matter expert for further evaluation. By streamlining their initial evaluation of the criminal charges, the FBI estimates they have saved over 94,000 man-hours. They also continue to scale their rules-based automations to systematically improve efficiency and effectiveness.

  • Read more about how the FBI uses case management to help route and automate work.

A collaboration between the U.S. Air Force Research Lab and U.S. Marine Corps – enabling the warfighter through transformed business processes

In addition to the warfighting missions of the Department of Defense, the Department is responsible for managing many day-to-day functions familiar to most businesses – such as human resources management, financial management, research training, logistics, and supply chain management, among others. And like many businesses, they are looking for ways to connect systems, collaborate with stakeholders, empower users, and streamline functional operations.

The U.S. Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) supports and empowers a number of Air Force technical directorates and operations around the globe. One of their core functional missions is supporting enterprise system modernization through a federated development architecture. At our 2018 Government Empowered summit, Chadwick S. Pfoutz, the AFRL’s Deputy Division Chief of Enterprise Business Systems Division described the challenges they were facing connecting disparate systems that had been significantly customized over the years. The goal is to remove redundant processes by using a shared database to create a single source of truth, a common toolbox of managed IT capabilities, and a common set of business rules that run across the platform while allowing for localization. So far, they’ve been realizing value from their first four developed applications in enterprise planning and programming, program management, work unit management, and activity tracking.

This shared approach is also being adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps Business Mission Area. As presented by Captain Andrew R. Hutcheon, Program Manager for Business Process Automation and Transformation, the goal is to reduce redundant business processes and corresponding expenditures and shift that cost savings toward warfighter mission activities. Core to their plan is moving from a system-centric architecture to a services-oriented architecture with a shared database and technical services from IT. They start at the director level for first-hand insight to identify what processes have the most redundancy or biggest bottlenecks and can benefit most from business process automation. By optimizing functional operations through shared services and automations in the areas such as human resources management, financial management, logistics, training, and education, the USMC estimates it can save $3.1 billion of buying power per fiscal year and scale their program to other areas of the business function for even more savings.

A major benefit of the AFRL and USMC collaboration is that because of Pega’s reusability, the organizations are able to share code-bases and technology best practices to speed time to development and save taxpayer dollars.

  • Learn more about how the Defense agencies can transform legacy systems to become more agile and secure.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Financial Services Center – improving your employee experience is directly tied to your constituent experience

“Employees know where the process breaks are, they know where customers are frustrated. Supporting them benefits the organization and the customer.”

Anna Rigney recognizes the value of good customer experience. As Director of Customer Experience for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Financial Services Center (VA FSC), she is tasked with streamlining processes and programs for the delivery of healthcare to veterans. But her years in private industry taught her that throwing technology at a project isn’t a solution. Technology can enable employees to provide an amazing customer experience, but they have to buy into that technology. And to do that, organizations need to first understand the relationship between employees and customers. How do they interact? What kind of information is needed? How can technology make the process easier for both the employees and the customer? What is the underlying need? To improve customer experience, the VA FSC sought out a balanced approach toward implementation. One that would benefit the customer and the employee.

Transformation may not be easy or quick. “Sometimes,” says Anna, “… it takes baby steps to get to where you need to go.” When she arrived at FSC, customer service was important, but it was not a priority in operations. Her team developed a five-year plan to prove value and make customer experience a priority. In less than five years the organization went from 25 customer service representatives (CSRs) using one customer relationship management (CRM) interaction portal to 258 CSRs supported with an integrated front- and back-office system, web self-service, and knowledge management system – and they continue to deploy new major functionalities every three months.

FSC continues to modernize to improve operations and services. Planned projects include using RPA to automate data transfers between legacy and new data systems, expanding self-service, moving to the cloud, building out more reporting and analytics dashboards, and of course, continuing to empower employees to provide outstanding customer experience.

  • Read more on how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Financial Services Center is improving payment accuracy, reducing processing costs, and supporting constituents.

Discover more ways government agencies are using digital tools to modernize services and operations:


  • Industry: Government
  • Challenge: Legacy System Innovation

About the Author

Doug Averill, Pega’s global government industry markets leader, helps governments around the world increase operational efficiency, improve constituent experiences, and respond more quickly to legislative change through digital transformation.