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July 21, 2015

IT Solutions Challenge 2015 Expert Panel Feedback - Joshua Brightwell

By Joshua Brightwell


Going into the midpoint meeting, my team felt confident. We were on a good track and had a solid problem statement and proposed solution. We feel there is poor resource management when it comes to email and other collaboration tools in the federal government. There is limited access to government email and the documents that are stored on our office workstations. We believe that moving government email to a standardized cloud solution and adding modern collaboration tools will solve this issue. One thing we knew we would have to overcome are the many security misconceptions in government with regards to transitioning to the cloud. Our solution was to gather the data and facts and create a business plan that outlines the value of transitioning to a cloud environment. We also planned on finding a way to educate agencies on security concerns as they relate to the cloud. The key metrics we put together were:

  • Cost of maintaining current infrastructure
  • Cost of running on a cloud environment
  • Cost of migration to cloud
  • The current satisfaction with cloud implementation where it has already occurred

We were rather confident going in front of the panel of experts assembled to pose hard questions of our problem and solution. Once we got in the room with the panel, the pressure suddenly sank in. We presented our case and then the questions began. We learned that there is still a lot of research to be done. The first thing we learned is that moving to the cloud does not necessarily mean saving money. When NOAA moved to the cloud, the cost per mailbox actually went up.

This was the opposite of everything we had read and assumed. However, in most cases the cloud solution provides many other tools aside from just a traditional mailbox system. These added tools can boost productivity and the benefits can outweigh the higher price tag. Part of our sales pitch to the agencies will be the long term goal rather than the short sighted benefit of merely saving money upfront.

We discussed our problem statement and how we can make it stronger. The panel agreed with us that communication in government needs fixing, but perhaps we need to look further than email. It became clear that maybe we have “smallified” too much. We discussed how current communications used in government are inflexible and in some cases outdated. Moving to a cloud based platform would allow us to attain the flexibility the government needs. In the event that additional employees are hired, their additional mailboxes can be added very simply and efficiently. This approach allows people to telework and work with mobile technologies so they are not tethered to their work station.

We were told that our problem statement wasn’t enough of a problem as much as it was a general idea. The panel recommended that we narrow in and really focus on what the underlining issue is that we want to fix, not to focus on simply what we want to accomplish. We need to argue why what we want to accomplish is important and what changes would be made by doing so. We need to focus on how the solution will convince agencies to move into our cloud platform. We were also told that we need to look beyond email, as standardizing email could ruin the balance in the competitive marketplace. If there is less and less competition, the end product will begin to stagnate and could soon be rendered as inefficient as the legacy systems before.

Finally, we talked about the future government employees and how they will be affected by our solution. We discussed how many people entering government straight out of college are met with a massive culture shock. There is a broad government problem when it comes to future generations and filling the gap of the expiring workforce. Many of the tools they used in college to write papers, communicate and simply save data are not available in government and they need to learn a new, albeit outdated way of doing things. There needs to be a change in culture in how government works. Agencies need a better way to communicate with each other and the employees need a better way to collaborate.

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