A Transformative Approach to Government Innovation
Senior Vice President of Public Sector, WWT
World Wide Technology understands IT modernization is not business as usual. Government agencies are not just upgrading or replacing outdated software and hardware. They are looking for integrated solutions to transform their operations and drive their missions — and that requires a more collaborative approach between agencies and solution providers.
The traditional value-added reseller model serves an important purpose, providing a cost-effective channel for buying a wide array of products with supporting services. But when agencies are interested in innovation — when they are interested in bringing together stakeholders and technology experts to find new solutions to long-standing problems — they need something more.
That is the idea behind WWT’s Innovation Center, an 11,650-square-foot interactive space in the heart of Washington, D.C. The center, which opened its doors last fall, provides a venue for public sector agencies to work on their most vexing challenges and to pilot potential solutions, whether that involves the cloud, internet of things, cybersecurity, workforce productivity or data analytics.
“We want this to be a workspace for customers to not only think about what they want to accomplish in technology, but to actively work on solutions to help solve their most pressing mission and business challenges,” said WWT Senior Vice President of Public Sector Bryan Thomas, who recently gave Government Executive Media Group a tour of the Innovation Center.
shaping a vision
While the center helps agencies work with advanced technologies, this is not a traditional technology lab. With its state-of-the-art collaboration equipment and open-office floor plan and workspaces, the center is designed to facilitate the formulation and testing of ideas — and the shaping of new visions.
Visually, the center reflects WWT’s commitment to building a culture of innovation that recognizes the value of diversity and inclusion. Conference room names and signage celebrate innovators, such as Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell, renowned “influencers,” such as Katherine Johnson and Neil Armstrong, and leaders, such as President Theodore Roosevelt.
The center frequently hosts executive briefings, solution demonstrations, proofs of concept and product-benchmarking efforts.
But one of its most important offerings is the “ideation workshop.”
This workshop helps government customers to examine their biggest challenges and step through the entire lifecycle of innovation —from the generation of new ideas to forming strategic and tactical plans that lead to concrete outcomes.
For example, the center recently hosted a briefing on the recovery efforts of an island devastated by a hurricane in 2017. Officials from the island, along with representatives of key federal agencies, discussed ideas for revamping its infrastructure in a bid to spur tourism and cultivate new business opportunities. Technology would be an enabler, but the focus was on outcomes.
Connecting to “Silicon Valley in St. Louis”
You might say the center is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It is virtually connected to WWT’s Advanced Technology Center in St. Louis, dubbed the “Silicon Valley in St. Louis.” The ATC serves as a testing and research lab that doubles as a collaborative ecosystem for employees, customers and partners.
Powered by a 500-rack data center, the ATC brings hundreds of tech giants into a physical, yet virtualized environment to work independently and architecturally together. These companies are “absolutely impressive” individually, but united in an ecosystem, they can produce game-changing solutions, Thomas said.
“We have the vision of being the best technology company in the world,” said Thomas, who joined WWT in 2000. “We can’t say that we’ll ever achieve it, but we will constantly hold ourselves accountable to that goal and make every effort to get there.”
Without a doubt, WWT has developed a strong reputation for helping civilian and defense agencies tackle their most difficult-to-solve problems.
In the Defense Department, for example, the military services have struggled to provide warfighters in remote locations with reliable connectivity and access to data. To solve this dilemma, WWT has partnered with commercial search providers to build portable data centers that can be put in shipping containers, loaded on a C-130 and dropped in any location, providing soldiers with ready access to data and data-mining tools.
Delivering Best-of-Breed Capabilities
Partnerships are essential to WWT’s strategy. Whatever technology field the company enters, it looks for technology-savvy companies that share its vision for innovation and collaboration. The key, of course, is taking best-of-breed technology from different vendors and integrating it into a cohesive solution. That is one of WWT’s core strengths.
The company describes its method as “ripping and replacing with integrated architectures.” Often, agencies will buy various products over time to meet specific requirements, only to find they don’t talk to each other. The result is a disjointed environment. WWT figures out how to integrate that environment, drawing on its extensive portfolio of partner providers.
This is something that sets us apart from OEMs and VARs,” Thomas said. “Not only can we deliver an array of top-tier technologies, but we know how to put that together into an integrated architecture that delivers the results that customers need.
Infrastructure solutions remain WWT’s bread and butter. But the company also has a growing business in application services, with 500 developers across the country working on apps for customers in the public and private sectors. As always, the focus is on delivering tangible outcomes.
For example, a popular fast-casual eatery, was looking for a way to address its biggest challenge: reducing in-store wait-time for customers. WWT developed an app that allowed customers to place orders from kiosks or mobile devices. Rather than waiting in line to place an order and then waiting again to pick it up, customers could have their order waiting for them when they arrived, or even have it delivered.
The eatery might seem far removed from the operational requirements at government agencies, but it reflects WWT’s approach to IT modernization and transformation. That is, begin with business or mission objectives, assess the state of the existing infrastructure and develop a plan for modernizing the infrastructure to make applications and workflows more effective and efficient.
In practice, of course, organizations find it difficult to change how they operate, even when vendors provide great solutions. Ultimately, Thomas said, it takes an advocate on the inside to push forward a digital strategy.
When there is a champion internally who really understands the vision and what they need to accomplish — and who can collaborate with industry to develop solutions — modernization moves so much more effectively. That innovative mindset, that shift in culture, is what makes transformation possible.
Senior Vice President of Public Sector, WWT