There’s no one better to ask about the latest news than a fellow journalist, so WashingtonExec sat down with Camille Tuutti, executive editor of NextGov, for a chat about what’s what in federal IT, how she came to lead a team of award-winning journalists, and a few tough lessons she’s learned along the way.
WashingtonExec: What do you all do at NextGov?
Camille Tuutti: My team is truly the best of the best—a team of award-winning journalists who have their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in federal IT. We look at the implementation of tech and IT in the federal government, the challenges civilian agencies face in servings its customers, these agencies’ processes and so on. We cover topics like cybersecurity, emerging tech, data, cloud.
Our focus is on the potential that technology has to transform how the government does business and how it serves and supports citizens. For example, how does the cloud streamline how agencies deliver citizen services? What does a 21st-century digital government look like? What is the state of federal cybersecurity? What are the trends in federal IT? As a taxpayer, is your information safe and protected by the federal government? Those are the questions we ask.
WE: How do you see emerging technologies affecting the federal government, which isn’t exactly known for being on the cutting edge?
CT: You know, it’s interesting. We see the government as one big machine, but it isn’t. Different agencies and departments, like DARPA, NASA and GSA, are looking seriously at integrating really cool emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality. Some agencies are using drones in really cool ways—for example, NOAA is using drones to respond to oil spills, and NASA is using them to track spaceships.
There are tons of innovators and change makers in government, but you may not hear about them because they’re public servants first and foremost. They serve the government for its mission, not to get bragging rights for their achievements or for the opportunity to stand in the limelight
WE: But other parts of the government are still running on Windows XP. Do you think the focus on emerging tech in these early adoption agencies is misplaced when we still have these problems?
CT: Yes, there are issues with legacy IT—outdated IT systems that sometimes are decades old and part of a crumbling infrastructure. It’s been a huge problem and a focus of government oversight committees for a long time. But why not deal with both? Old ways of doing things—of storing and processing information, of delivering insight and value—aren’t feasible anymore. We need to move forward.
And while the government doesn’t do anything in haste, there’s a good reason for it. Agencies that have their sights on emerging technologies aren’t just going to move on it, because of the checks and balances in place. They are very aware of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
WE: Let’s talk about adoption trends in the federal government What have you seen over the last several years?
CT: Pilots. Agencies like to use pilots to test out an idea. Again, you can’t mess with taxpayer dollars. What I’ve seen is the chief information officers, chief technology officers—the senior-level people—are good stewards. They see an idea they like and want to test it, so they go for a pilot. If it doesn’t work, they scrap it, and if it does, they go for it. I think that’s important: if you have the opportunity to pilot something, do it. Also, groups like 18F and programs like the Presidential Innovation Fellows have infused fresh thinking into government, helping people understand the value and importance of innovation.
WE: How do you measure the success of a pilot?
CT: I think you really have to get the buy-in from your people. If you’re a senior leader, you want to get the buy in from your staff. You also want to get the buy-in from your superiors. You make sure your goals are clear and measurable, you execute the pilot on a small scale, and see if it met the needs. But stakeholder buy-in is essential.
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