From RPA to cybersecurity, CIOs overcame ever-changing challenges in 2020

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Ask the CIO is the longest running show on Federal News Network. I’ve been the host for almost 13 years. Every interview I do, and every panel I moderate, are always filled with interesting news and tidbits that show the progress of federal IT.

CIOs have some of the most difficult but exciting jobs across government. As we’ve heard many times, technology is the glue that holds the mission and business programs together.

Here are the top 10 Ask the CIO interviews for 2020:

1. VA found a fast solution to its growing call center wait time problem

This interview on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ implementation of robotics process automation was by far the most popular show of the year, and it was a surprising number one at that. Part of the reason may have been the topic—stories about VA and how they are serving veterans always do well—or it could’ve been the timing. Many veterans likely are glad to see VA addressing a huge area of frustration for many, and the fact they are using automation to do that makes the interview even more interesting.

2. NGA outlines approach to tackle underlying, enduring technology challenges

The decision by the National Geospatial and Intelligence Agency to make public its technology strategy and where it needs short and long-term help should be lauded and mandated by the Office of Management and Budget and/or Congress. Yes, agencies have IT strategies or technology roadmaps, but few actively push the documents out the door like NGA. This is one of the reasons why this interview was so popular.

3. Cloud-based internet isolation initiatives to give DoD a new kind of cyber protections

If there was ever a need for a cybersecurity success story, the Defense Information Systems Agency gave us one earlier this year. Stopping bad actors at the browser and not allowing them to push onto the network or specific applications is one less threat vector to worry about. DISA expects to expand this pilot to other military services in 2021, and hopefully it’s something that can catch on more broadly across the entire government.

4. Path for agencies to more easily use cloud services paved by TIC pilots

Over the last few years, it became clear to agencies and industry alike that the Trusted Internet Connections initiative needed an overhaul. The Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had been conducting pilots with agencies such as the Small Business Administration for the last year or so.  This interview with CISA’s Sean Connelly, the TIC program manager, resonated more so as agencies were just starting to deal with the surge of remote workers in light of COVID-19.

5. Two Air Force bases given go-ahead to expand network-as-a-service

There are a lot of eyes watching the Air Force’s efforts to implement enterprise IT-as-a-service (EITaaS). The news that two bases could take the next step in this overarching initiative was a big deal and accounted for the interest in the interview. Other military services and civilian agencies are closely following the Air Force’s EITaaS program so we should expect it to be a hot topic in 2021 as well.

6. NGA, NRO managing cyber risk through more data-driven, collaborative approaches

To me, the reason this interview came in at number six is the National Reconnaissance Office. While NGA is open and easy to work with, the NRO rarely surfaces in the federal IT community. So having a panel featuring the NRO chief information security officer made for a rare inside look at what the agency is focusing on.

7. Former Federal CIO Kent reflects on her tenure, accomplishments, biggest frustrations

This interview with former Federal CIO Suzette Kent coming in at number seven was a little surprising. Yes, Kent spoke often at industry events, and her accomplishments were well documented. But given her popularity and success, I figured the “exit” interview where she reflected and offered a bit more candid insights would’ve been more popular.

8. Before she leaves, Wynn setting NASA up for a reorganized, consolidated IT future

Where Kent’s exit interview at number 7 was a little disappointing, Renee Wynn’s coming in at number 8 was pleasantly surprising. NASA always is a popular topic among our readers so that may have accounted for some of the interest. The other piece to this interview’s popularity may have been Wynn’s accomplishment of changing the way NASA oversees and manages enterprisewide IT. This has been a major problem for decades so making progress is significant.

9. Analytics reveal areas for mission improvement at USDA, VA

This show came from a panel I moderated with VA and the Agriculture Department where they highlighted the use of data analytics, AI and other emerging technology to help address mission goals. The combination of the topic, AI and data analytics, and the fact it brings together trends from across several agencies likely is the reason this show broke into the top 10.

10. Voice of America going ‘over the top’ with its new streaming service

Of all the interviews I did in 2020, Jim Tunnessen, the VOA CIO, was among the most interesting. He was taking on different challenges than most CIOs, but using common technologies like cloud or AI. Voice of America had a rough time in late 2020, but that doesn’t take away from the work Tunnessen and his staff accomplished to help with these complex challenges.

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