Happy 2020! The new year promises abundant potential for advancement across the broad swath of Federal government IT. Industry leaders shared their predictions for 2020 and beyond with MeriTalk, indicating the path to progress will often track uphill, and around plenty of curves.

The big Federal IT issues for 2020 proper? How about multi-cloud architecture, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) adoption, 5G mobile and related security implications, and workforce upskilling, just to name a few.

Asked to jump two years into the future and identify the biggest Federal IT areas we should have been looking at more closely in 2020, many of the broader security and infrastructure themes run in a similar vein. They also focus in many ways on the explosion in data growth, and the vital importance of technology, security, and policy to turn data into higher-value assets while respecting privacy.

The 2020 Outlook

First, in their own words (with only a tiny bit of editing), here’s how private-sector officials see technologies that “will have the biggest impact” on Federal IT in 2020:

Nick Psaki, Federal CTO at Pure Storage: “Artificial intelligence presents an opportunity to transform citizen service and government operation – and agencies are becoming more comfortable with AI acting as the decision maker. The technology can drive and deliver insights – and the AI applications can scale and be applicable in more contexts. In the Federal market, a modern data experience built on a data-centric architecture enables AI to free up valuable resources that were originally consumed by routine tasks and refocus those resources on mission critical activities.”

Cameron Chehreh, CTO, Vice President Presales Engineering at Dell Technologies Federal: “2020 is the beginning of the ‘Next Data Decade.’ Multi-cloud, AI and ML, and 5G will have the biggest impact. Initiatives like Cloud Smart support multi-cloud environments where public and private clouds coexist, and agencies can select multiple vendors. 81 percent of federal agencies already utilize multi-cloud, and we’ll see this trend continue, improving scalability and security. AI will advance missions with automated tools that detect cyber vulnerabilities to delivering insights to soldiers fast enough to make a difference. 5G pilots are emerging in the Defense Department (DoD), with a large-scale initiative on military bases. 5G will enable communications 100 times faster than 4G.”

Egon Rinderer, Federal CTO at Tanium: “There is a growing need for Federal agencies to integrate Security and IT Operations as environments get more complex and computing devices more varied. Agencies need real-time, actionable data to prevent, identify and rapidly respond to cyber threats. You can’t manage, and you certainly can’t secure, what you can’t see. The draft DoD Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) and the DHS CDM capabilities include steps that will help integrate security and IT operations. Unified endpoint management is the most important, foundational technology that can bridge the common but unnecessary divide between Security and Operations, while also giving agencies the visibility and control required to fulfill the mission.”

Jonathan Alboum, Principal Digital Strategist at ServiceNow: “Data is the connective tissue across many IT programs within the Federal government. Following the release of the Federal Data Strategy, Federal agencies are poised to organize and share their data in ways to inform better decision making. One of the ways to achieve this is through AI and machine learning – technologies that I believe will have the biggest impact on Federal IT in the new year, and far into the new decade. The Federal IT community must ensure that agencies introduce these technologies in ways that enhance worker productivity and drive mission outcomes to ensure they gain acceptance with the public.”

Drew Schnabel, Vice President of Federal at Zscaler: “5G will bring high-speed internet connections to government in the next decade, improving agencies’ connectivity and providing consistent user experience and mobile access to Federal networks. More Federal employees will use personal devices, work remotely, and connect to cloud destinations. Employees expect to be able to work when they want, where they want, using the devices they want. The downside? With everything connected, cybercriminals will also have increased access to Federal agency networks and more opportunity to steal mission critical data. So, the question will be how can agencies keep users and data secure.”

Jack Lynch, Senior Vice President of Sales at Okta: “In 2020, Zero Trust will continue to be a top priority for government agencies, impacting the way in which agencies approach security. In late 2019, NIST released SP 800-207, showing strong Federal commitment and momentum around architecting a modern, Zero Trust approach to security. Looking ahead, more agencies will implement security controls aligned with Zero Trust, particularly as they modernize their infrastructure and develop new ways to engage with constituents. Identity and access management, the starting point for many agencies beginning on their Zero Trust journeys, will serve as the crucial foundation for that strategy over the next year.”

Steve Ngyuen, Vice President and General Manager of U.S. Public Sector at Citrix: “With increasing frequency, government is going digital. Many agencies are moving toward mobile workforces and states toward a Telework initiative. As they do so, they must balance the desire to give workers flexibility and control over when, where, and how they work against the need to protect their systems and information. To do this, they will tap into digital workspace solutions that allow them to give employees access to the SaaS, web, and mobile apps they prefer to use in a unified, secure, and reliable experience on any device, wherever they may be working. And they can dynamically apply security policies based on a user’s behavior, allowing them to work the way they want with the confidence that their applications, information, and devices are safe.”

Darryl Peek, Business Development and Strategy Manager, Public Sector, at Salesforce: “The technologies that will have the biggest impact on Federal IT in 2020 are SaaS/PaaS-based Customer Experience technologies, System and Data Integration technologies utilizing APIs, Security and Identity technologies, mobile technologies, and Data Analytics/Artificial Intelligence technologies. The success of these technologies will be significantly dependent upon workforce enablement and employee upskilling, but the intuitive design is aiding in adoption. The benefit of these trends are the result of market maturity of platforms and integration approaches. IT leaders have expressed the benefit of these technologies as a part of their IT Modernization Strategy.”

Looking Back at 2020

And here’s what those same officials predict in 2022 we should have been paying more attention to in the coming year:

Darryl Peek at Salesforce: “Hybrid IT Infrastructure Governance, Software Defined Networks, Business Process Automation, The Democratization of IT through use of Low-Code/No-Code Platforms, Mesh Networks, and Post Quantum Encryption. There are pilots and prototypes currently taking place across these topic areas, but government has not sufficiently addressed these technologies for the enterprise. In retrospect, these areas are complimentary to the most impactful technologies, but have not gotten significant traction at many agencies who are challenged with priorities, resources, and budget.”

Steve Ngyuen at Citrix: “The move to the cloud that is on across the public sector is fueling a dynamic work environment that promises to drive new levels of freedom, productivity, and innovation. But it is also introducing new vulnerabilities and an expanded attack surface that require a more intelligent and contextual approach to security. IT and security teams will need to look beyond traditional tactics of locking down devices and leverage solutions that combine centralized policy control, user behavior insights, with machine learning and artificial intelligence to administer security policies based on user behaviors and access patterns. With such solutions, they can serve up personalized access to the systems, information, and tools their employees need, when and how they need them while keeping their information and systems secure.”

Jack Lynch at Okta: “The public’s demand for citizen engagement with the government sector. Citizens want access to the government sector as easily and conveniently as accessing an app on their phone. In the next few years, we’ll see citizen engagement drastically increase and the digital experiences that government organizations provide will evolve to meet these new expectations. In addition to transforming digital experience, the government will need to make significant investments in managing customer identity and access management to ensure constituents are seamlessly and securely connecting to the public sector.”

Drew Schnabel at Zscaler: “As traditional network perimeters dissolve with the move to cloud and mobile, many agencies’ security architectures have remained focused on securing the data center and traditional end points, rather than identifying and providing secure access for the end user/device in any location. In 2020, agencies should be shifting to more comprehensive security platforms that reflect modern IT environments – Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). While agencies might have aspects of this security approach in place – SD-Wan, SWG, CASB, ZTNA, and FWaaS, they will need to look for a single security offering solution that can scale to meet the needs of each agency.”

Jonathan Alboum at ServiceNow: “Despite the Federal IT community’s increased focus on the management and use of data, I predict that we will look back on 2020 and realize we rushed into integrating data management technologies without sufficient oversight into the ethics and privacy of these systems. Although the Federal IT community is aware of these issues, as seen most recently through the Senate’s introduction of the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act, there isn’t enough dialogue happening to determine how federal data will be used in the future.”

Egon Rinderer at Tanium: “As the Federal government consolidates and modernizes its infrastructure, it’s important to also adjust its approach to threat management. The CDM Approved Product List (APL) includes over 430,000 SKUs – this volume of point products has created mountains of data within an unmanageable, disconnected cyber ecosystem. Risk scoring, a key component of threat management, is only useful when accurate, real-time data is used. Unfortunately, the overwhelming volume of data can become more crippling than empowering. In 2020, it’s critical that Federal agencies start to think differently about the data problem and consider opportunities to future proof their cyber infrastructure and modernize risk management with an integrated platform approach.”

Cameron Chehreh at Dell Technologies Federal: “Ensuring that the government is equipped with the right infrastructure to support massive amounts of data, and the insights this data can provide, can’t be overlooked and should be looked at more closely now. Advancement is only possible with enough compute power, and edge, cloud, and data center capacity. Consistent architectures, orchestration, and service agreements will allow us to fuel the AI advancements and IT automation necessary to realize new possibilities and discoveries through data, and revolutionize how government can support the citizen and the warfighter.”

Nick Psaki at Pure Storage: “The emergence of the hybrid cloud has been a focus in 2019 – and that momentum will continue into 2020 and beyond. As applications are developed or re-platformed for cloud-friendly architectures, Object Storage will become the natural choice for enabling applications to decouple and disaggregate applications and their compute resources from a pool of shared storage. Object Storage has shaken off its roots as cheap-and-deep cold storage and has started to emerge as the new form of primary storage – and should be a focus in 2020 as agencies work to determine which workloads belong on the cloud vs. on-premise.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.