As Federal agencies are looking to modernize and undergo enterprise-wide digital transformations, leaders at the Army’s Enterprise Cloud Management Office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are pointing to changing organizational culture and “having the right conversation” first.

Greg Judge, deputy director of the Army’s Enterprise Cloud Management Office, and Mark Oh, director of the CMS infrastructure and user services group, explained how they are approaching digital transformation, and how that has set the stage for change at their agencies.

“Transformation also is about changing culture,” Judge said during a panel discussion at the AWS Summit in Washington, D.C. on May 24. “And that is something that’s from the very top down, from the Secretary of the Army on down. It’s an imperative to change the culture of IT.”

In the Army, Judge said that means there are less conversations about specific IT tools, and more about what services are necessary to complete the mission at hand. He added this also means taking into account the service needs of the business side of Army, the logistics side, and the warfighter side of the equation.

“[The culture change is] accepting risk – fail fast, fail often, but not too big,” Judge said. We’re beginning to inculcate that whole culture of ‘it’s okay to experiment and ideas can come from the bottom up,’ and that’s probably some of the best ideas come from.”

For CMS, Oh stressed the importance of first looking at digital transformation from a business angle because digital transformation can mean different things to different people. Because of that, Oh said it’s important to not only have the right people in place, but also to have the right conversation.

“One thing that I think has been the biggest difference is having the right conversation,” Oh said. “When you’re talking about resilience, when you’re talking about cybersecurity, I think in the beginning there you had to almost defend why you were utilizing cloud technology. That’s a wrong conversation.”

As an example, Oh explained the situation of a hurricane a few years back bearing down on a data center facility in South Carolina. A CMS employee took a physical data storage tape and drove it from South Carolina to Washington, D.C., for safekeeping.  At that time, Oh said, that kind of mindset – that a physical tape was more resilient than having the data backed up to the cloud – was prevalent, but now it’s changing.

Oh said that CMS Chief Information Security Officer Rob Wood has helped push the team towards having those right conversations, and said having leadership in place to push for those changes has made a significant difference.

“[If you] are in the state of continuing to justify why you’re operating in the cloud, you are wasting lots of time and effort rather than building more services and making more services,” Oh said. “So being able to spend that time in the beginning to be able to have the right conversations made all the difference.”

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.