When you’ve helped an organization process more than 40 percent of the world’s mail, you know a thing or two about IT strategy. For nearly five years, John Edgar served as vice president of information technology for the United States Postal Service, helping transform its IT arm into a service-based, agile technology center of excellence. Now Edgar is helping private industry do the same on behalf of a whole host of federal agencies, from the Department of Homeland Security to the FBI.
In his role as chief strategist of IT transformation for Salient CRGT, Edgar is focused on three areas: driving better data decision-making, increasing productivity through faster application delivery, and boosting operational efficiency. On the eve of his one-year anniversary, Edgar debriefs on Salient CRGT’s focus on agile, data analytics, mobility and cyber security innovation, and how he creates buy-in for technological transformation among federal agencies.
WashingtonExec: As you near your one-year anniversary as chief strategist of IT transformation for Salient CRGT, what IT initiatives you are focusing on?
John Edgar: My focus really started a couple months in, with the merger of Salient Federal Solutions with CRGT. This merger aligns the capabilities of the two companies and strengthens the overall range of the services we provide. Salient CRGT’s four innovation centers — agile, data analytics, mobility and cyber security — are focused on enhancing business decision making, agility and creative thinking.
One specific example, in the area of agile software development, the merger combines the companies’ strengths in strategic agile coaching and enterprise agile program management with tactical agile implementation and Scrum master capabilities to bring about more comprehensive agile offerings for government agencies.
WashingtonExec: How does your previous work as vice president of information technology for the United States Postal Service inform your ability to provide IT solutions to agencies?
John Edgar: My past work confirms my belief in the importance of agile technologies. Moving to an agile methodology – where you are delivering your solutions incrementally — is critical. The upside is they start to get value sooner, and the speed with which they can get their hands on a solution — and start to use it, to gain even partial value — is still a better benefit to an organization than the option of waiting for a full-scale, complete delivery. I think this is critical for agencies where there are large infrastructures and the associated investments needed to change.
You can’t afford to wait to the end of a development effort — and make all the associated infrastructure changes, end user training preparation and so on — just to find that it isn’t the right solution for the users. It is critical to deliver positive value faster.
WashingtonExec: What’s the best way you’ve found to create buy-in among government customers?
John Edgar: First, you can’t just throw a particular tool at government customers and expect an implementation to be successful. That’s why I believe in building a proof of concept upfront that helps illustrate — with the aid of modern visualization and data correlation tools — both the opportunities and the potential successes of a solution.
Seeing real-time delivery with simulated data has a much deeper impact on helping an agency understand what they can possibly achieve through a new technology than any other approach This is true in software development as well as in business intelligence and data analytics. Getting visible and incremental solutions in the hands of the users faster and getting immediate feedback is the best way to ensure a successful outcome.
WashingtonExec: What additional areas are you focused on bringing to federal agencies?
John Edgar: One of our goals is to drive a complete, flexible DevOps framework that we can consistently use to deliver faster, more integrated solutions as part of an agile development methodology.
It’s essential to provide a solution that is flexible enough to be adjusted on the fly, or plug and play, to the tools that an agency may require for use in their environment. It may be open source, it may be proprietary, but whatever the tool, capabilities must be aligned with agency processes. More broadly, our agile, cyber, data analytics and mobility innovation centers seek to understand the evolving needs of the agencies and help to grow the capabilities of the company to ensure those needs are met.
WashingtonExec: What we can expect next in your role as the chief strategist of IT transformation?
John Edgar: When you look across the spectrum, government and industry both tend to look at technology in silos. You have cloud solutions … mobile solutions … a focus on analytics. But, interestingly, when you look at these technologies, in total, they are all converging. It’s not just the technical conversion, like software-defined networks; it’s the end-user conversion.
I see this conversion occurring not just with the cloud, or mobile or data analytics but, from an end-user perspective as well. They don’t care where the application runs or where the data comes from. They care that it all comes together to give the user what they need, when they need it, on the device of their choice. In keeping with all that, a big part of my role here is to drive that integration from a technology services standpoint and to enable agencies to deliver in an integrative fashion on behalf of their customers and end users.
WashingtonExec: Where do you see government adoption – and acquisition – of agile services headed next?
John Edgar: From the professional services side, moving toward an acquisition and contracting process that secures agile services through trusted vendor-partner relationships is crucial, especially for delivering on normal agile prioritizations versus predefined detailed functionality.
On the government side, being flexible in how to contract — and how to acquire those services, through different acquisition models – will, in the long run, enable agencies to get the services they need, with the confidence that they are applying proper due diligence with the expenditures.