2019’s Top 25 Execs to Watch: Kelly Olson, GSA

Kelly Olson

2018 began with a bang for the General Services Administration as Kelly Olson led the Technology Transformation Services’ innovation portfolio through a significant period of growth for governmentwide open innovation, helping agencies build capacity on human-centered design and digital transformation, and building on important emerging citizen technologies efforts

In April, Olson took over as TTS chief of staff to help organize and execute key strategic priorities, partnerships and investments. In August, she was appointed the acting director of TTS, tasked with “leading an incredibly dedicated team of public servants,” whose goal is to transform how government agencies build, buy, use and share technology, she said.

TTS has built a valuable, unique capability to drive more effective use of technology across government to establish a foundation for long-term change that helps agencies better serve the public, she said.

2018 was a year both of challenges and opportunities for TTS. The challenges included organization and leadership changes, hiring limitations and annual budget constraints such as continuing resolutions.

“The combination of those factors made it difficult to resource, grow and scale some of our important work,” Olson said. “The demand for digital transformation and IT modernization across government has never been greater, it can be challenging when you have to navigate through a sea of bureaucratic processes and red tape.”

The silver lining, Olson said, was that the team took a strategic pause to assess, problem-solve and prioritize action plans to ensure it focused on the greatest need and opportunities for impact.

“We had to be creative in developing an achievable and sustainable plan to continue recruiting top talent and delivering impactful solutions,” Olson said. “We also stayed focused on ensuring that we maintained an open, inclusive and responsive culture in TTS that reflects the diversity of the public we serve.”

The focus on IT modernization and digital transformation put TTS at the heart of driving replicable, enterprise-level change at customer agencies. TTS launched the IT Modernization Centers of Excellence to accelerate the modernization of IT across government The CoEs focus on cloud adoption, data analytics, customer experience, contact centers and infrastructure optimization.

The TTS Emerging Citizen Technology Office was key in convening agencies, industry and academia to collaborate, learn and explore the application of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation to modernize government services, Olson said

“Agencies are realizing that these technologies can accelerate the efficiencies by automating inefficient, lower-value processes, empowering agencies to dedicate their limited resources to more high impact activities,” she said.

Why Watch:

After eight years at GSA, Olson is leaving government this month for a private sector role. Reflecting on her time at GSA, Olson said she’s “poured my heart and soul into, accomplished a lot along the way, while working with and learning from diverse, talented and resilient colleagues.”

Starting Jan. 28, Olson will be Adobe’s new head of strategy, public sector. Her focus will be learning how Adobe’s largest commercial customers are transforming the customer experience and translating that into helping government deliver their missions more effectively and efficiently while providing a more integrated digital experience for customers.

“The mission to help the government deliver a digital-first, customer-centric approach will continue to be my passion as I join the talented team at Adobe,” she said. “I truly believe in Adobe’s mission statement, ‘changing the world through digital experiences.’”

Olson said 2019 will be the year of implementation. Rather than an afterthought, IT modernization and customer experience design in government are key aspects of the President’s Management Agenda and now a mandated objective by the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act. All this will help federal agencies key in on user needs, improve the functionality, usability and experience on federal websites and mobile devices. It will also eliminate redundant paper-based forms and workflows and require agencies to the use electronic signatures.

“We have seen many pockets of innovation and success across all levels of government, but there’s still a gap in bringing those efforts together and looking at how the progress being made can be better integrated, scalable and repeatable,” Olson said.

See the full list of 2019’s Top 25 Execs to Watch.

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