Maria Roat, Cio, Small Business Administration (Sba)
What are some of the trends and challenges that you have seen impacting the government space?
Then the President Management Agenda (PMA) was published, it highly focused on the aspects of government transportation and technology among the many others. It also highlights the policies needed for salvaging the current pressing needs of digitalizing the government organization to help them prosper holistically. The outline of PMA also encouraged the drivers of the economic and public welfare like IT modernization for data and data transparency for better decision-making and policy implementation. All in all, it centered on fueling factors that could transform the federal government into an entity that is technologically adept in strong and effective policymaking backed by the right workforce.
Moreover, people often forget about the significance of communication while transforming their organization digitally. It is essential for strategy direction, driving change, or bringing in better technology. For instance, in SBA, my job is to assign tasks to our officers, suggest and procure the right technology, and keep the communication going within the team. From this experience, I have observed that in the process of digital transformation and procuring software for the organization, several things are to be kept in mind: security concerns, enterprise policy, and the roadmap. And, one needs to always emphasize on establishing excellent communication among everyone and explain them about the importance of effectively articulating ideas, which is one of the hardest milestones to conquer in an organization.
From a technology perspective, how do you look out on what is new in the technology space that you could imbibe in your organization?
I started with a Greenfield project, and the SBA was undoubtedly behind the curve in its technology. I was able to leapfrog and use a lot of techniques to enhance the work process. During this course, I learned that as organizations are moving to the cloud, their approach to data makes a lot of difference. Firstly, it is essential to make sure that we have got the foundational elements in place so that we can make better use of newer technology. Then, in the next step to this, most of the organizations are faced with the question of how should they use data across the agency? And most importantly, how can one help the organization navigate swiftly through data silos, share the data quickly, and communicate it effectively?
Moreover, bringing onboard innovative people is also one of the main areas of focus. I have a fantastic team that is continually supporting me by coming up with ideas, rolling out technologies that we can utilize, and paying attention to the market trends so that even as we are moving the agency forward around technology, we are infusing it with more innovation.
Communication is essential for strategy direction, driving change, or bringing in better technology
Please elaborate on how can organizations choose the right technology vendors for themselves? And how do you go about overseeing the smallest implementations for that matter in SBA?
In the federal government, choosing a vendor takes a series of extensive steps. We follow procurement, acquisition, and regulations. Since our work revolves mostly around small business, we prefer choosing them for our partners as well. For instance, while moving to the cloud, I ensured that no new hardware was installed in our data center; instead of just doing a lift and shift and going for infrastructure as a service, we were looking for software as a service solution.
Furthermore, it is paramount to understand that the entire mission is more than just technology implementation; instead, it should fit into the broader benefit of the agency. These aspects are all interconnected in a way where business operation depends on how well you handle the existing technology and incorporate new ones. It is also our responsibility to look after the workforce, making sure they are trained well and are in sync with the technology.
Elaborate on any recent projects that you are involved in and how do you define its scope and benefits.
Initially, SBA lacked a good view of its customers. We didn't understand how our customers interact with the agency. The customers have to go to one program office for a loan, another for counseling, and a different one for certification. Our organization lacked the 360-degree view and life cycle for the customer. So one of the big things that we have been working on right now is the foundational elements of getting to know our customers, and understand what the customer life cycles are like, and how they interact with us.
So currently, this is one of the big projects that we as an organization is engaging in because when we look at the amount of data we are dealing with, it is humungous. We collect more than 40 million small businesses’ across the United States. So understanding the touchpoints starting from those small businesses to the SBA is important to meet the market expectations efficiently.
What is the piece of advice you would like to give to a colleague or someone who aspires to be in your position or plans to take a similar career trajectory?
Firstly, for projects, when you are looking at RPA, machine learning, and other innovations, you should start small. For instance, try to set up short pilots and goals, execute them, and if they work, then learn from them. How could you improve them further? Because the smallest steps have a significant impact on the bigger picture and if it works, you can go ahead and implement it on a larger scale.
Secondly, from a CIO perspective, I always advise people to bring in more interaction among partners because that establishes a strong partnership. We are still going to need more ideas, more innovations, and meaningful discussions, which these communities can help you with immensely. Always give your employees and co-workers the space to try new things. I think it is crucial to keep the conversation flowing, it doesn't necessarily be right or useful, but it is always significant. We try new technologies, learn if we make mistakes, and move on. It helps a company figure out more unique out-of-the-box ideas because we focus on making them work. Finally, I firmly believe that technology is going to drive the right kind of innovation into your organization if you find the right balance of technology and the market expertise.