June 22, 2023

Government Risk Management: How Agencies Balance the Risks vs. Benefits of Digital Transformation

Security & Compliance

Digital transformation is happening all around us: for every business sector, across every type of organization. For government agencies, keeping up with digital transformation is riskier due to the large number of legacy systems still in use. Government risk management and digital transformation go hand-in-hand.

In this blog, we'll explore the most common risks agencies face during a digital transformation, and highlight government risk management strategies specifically for public sector IT and infrastructure.

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What is Government Risk Management?  

Government risk management is an agency’s plan for responding to dangers to the well-being of its citizens. For IT, it can include compliance, system hardening, and more.

The COVID-19 pandemic moved up the timeline for digital transformation projects considerably. Improvements that may have been slated for months or years down the line quickly became mission-critical, as the workforce moved to telework and services previously performed in-person moved online. It suddenly turned into a mad dash to modernize as soon as possible.

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Types of Risk in Government IT

Government agencies are susceptible to all the same information technology risks as other enterprise IT. Government IT is unique in the amount of oversight, visibility, and regulation that comes with handling sensitive citizen and community information.

Below are some of the most common types of risk government agencies and contractors face in managing their IT:

  • Breaches: Government organizations are frequently targeted by cybercriminals seeking the confidential information they use.
    • For example, municipal government IT systems in Baltimore, MD, and Greenville, NC, both fell victim to ransomware attacks in 2019, running up a tab in the millions and taking several government services offline for weeks. The WannaCry ransomware attack shut down 200,000 hospital computers in the UK and cost the NHS an estimated £92 million (~$117 million USD).
  • Data Loss: Even if it’s not the result of criminal intent, classified information exposure can still happen when systems fail or due to human error.
  • Insider Threats: Authorized users who misuse their system privileges can create IT risk for public sector entities, including data breaches and service disruption.
  • Third-Party Risks: Agencies can be exposed to risk by proxy when the IT vendors they work with are compromised.
  • Compliance and Regulations: Failing to comply with IT compliance frameworks and regulations around controls and configurations presents risk to government agencies in the form of legal penalties, financial damages, and loss of public trust.
  • Infrastructure Vulnerabilities: Government organizations often maintain vast, complex IT infrastructure across their enterprise. Merely maintaining infrastructure that large presents risk at the network, server, and communication levels if they're not properly secured.
  • Lack of IT Governance and Risk Management:Governance, risk, and compliance management rely on policies, procedures, and accountability to reduce the vulnerability of government IT. Without those, government risk management can’t really include IT.
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Digital Transformation and Government Risk Management

Most federal agencies have highly complex IT environments with hundreds – if not thousands – of legacy systems working together. Deploying even one new system or upgrading an existing one brings substantial risk. One configuration error in any system could negatively impact mission-critical applications.

Of course, government digital transformation requires deploying, upgrading, and adapting almost all of that infrastructure as part of a concerted effort to modernize. It’s a delicate balance, for sure – and without an effective deployment platform, the risks are even greater.

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The Biggest Challenges of Digital Transformation for Government Agencies

Transformation never comes without discomfort, and government digital transformation carries unique challenges and risks. Your readiness for digital transformation depends on your ability to handle them.

To mitigate risk, federal agencies typically standardize OS and application configurations to improve efficiency and reduce risk. But manual configuration means hours doing tedious work that could be better spent on high-priority projects. That’s not to mention the fact that every OS requires a specific knowledge base, meaning your IT operations team must have a thorough knowledge of every OS.

Some of the most common roadblocks to digital transformation for government agencies include:

  • Legacy System Integration: Existing systems aren’t often compatible with new tech.
  • Resistance to Change: Some members of the team might like things the way they are.
  • Skill Gaps: Government IT teams often don't have the broad, deep expertise needed to execute a digital transformation.
  • Financial Cost: Digital transformation takes time, tech, and human effort – and none of those are cheap.
  • Compliance, Security, and Privacy: Government agencies and contractors have to comply with many frameworks and standards. Digital transformation can jeopardize the compliance posture you worked hard to achieve.
  • Change Management: With a new set of tools and new people using them, unmanaged changes to infrastructure can compound headaches down the road.
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And How Automation Makes Them Manageable

Along with a strong digital transformation strategy, automation can help you bring those challenges under control. Here’s how.

Government Risk Management Challenge 

How Automation Helps 

Legacy System Integration 

Existing government systems and infrastructure aren’t often compatible with new technologies. Modernizing them can take time, money, and expertise you might not have. 

Automation standardizes data migration and API development to create functionality between systems. Then, it can synchronize data between systems to enable real-time updates. 

Resistance to Change 

Longer-term team members are used to the way things are done. They might not be excited about the idea of  

Automation can get your team all on the same page and pull them out from the mire of rote tasks. 

Skill Gaps 

Using new tech means developing new skills to use them – skills existing teams don’t always have yet. 

Automation can level the playing field by shortening onboarding and empowering IT ops to do more themselves. 

Financial Cost 

Digital transformation isn’t always cheap, and your budget isn’t getting any bigger. 

Automation shrinks your time to value with new technologies by automating repetitive, time-consuming processes. 

Compliance, Security, and Privacy 

Complying with DISASTIG, data protection regulations, PII privacy standards, security protocols, and more all involve time and effort to achieve, maintain, and prove. 

With public sector automation, compliance policies can be enforced as code, taking the manual work off your plate. RBAC, zero-trust, and other IT security measures can also be powered by automation. 

Change Management 

A lack of reliable, resilient infrastructure and automated processes means rework, delays, and overruns. 

Automated configuration management integrates change management with other control processes for smoother, more efficient work. 

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Reducing the Complexity of Government Risk Management

Using Puppet for government risk management means quicker deployments with reduced risk.

Customers that switched to Puppet Enterprise saw an average deployment frequency improvement of 2.5 times. Deployments that used to take months to complete can now be done in hours.

But moreover, Puppet understands what’s at risk when deploying and what can happen when a configuration fails. Puppet Enterprise reduces the uncertainty of deployments and enables IT managers to launch new or upgraded systems with confidence. It takes the guesswork out of digital transformation, reduces cost, and frees up IT departments to spend more time developing and less time deploying.

After a one-time setup and deployment, you can rest easy knowing that systems will remain stable. Subsequently, you can automate repetitive tasks and continually reinforce desired state to manage drift. Then, Puppet Enterprise performs checks regularly to ensure compliance.

Puppet Enterprise also includes Impact Analysis. IT administrators can use the platform to test the potential impact of changes without risking infrastructure. Removing uncertainty makes integrating or upgrading systems much easier. Impact Analysis tells administrators what will happen when a system is deployed, how it will impact IT infrastructure, and why it’s happening.

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How Puppet Makes Government Risk Management Easier

Rapid modernization is essential to supporting your mission. However, mission continuity is equally critical. A modern automation platform can help with efficient delivery of both new applications and systems, while mitigating risk to mission-critical systems – like noncompliance.

U.S. government agencies are often required to align with DISA STIGs and CIS Benchmarks. Puppet Comply uses the official CIS-CAT Pro Assessor to evaluate the state of infrastructure compliance. Puppet Compliance Enforcement leverages Puppet’s configuration management capabilities to continuously enforce both CIS and DISA STIGs in your infrastructure.

🇬🇧 Is your Cyber Essentials compliance on track? Get our guide to start automating configuration, RBAC, patching, and more to comply with the UK framework >>

But setting and forgetting doesn’t quite cut it for government risk management in IT. Achieving compliance with either of these standards requires a deep understanding of them, and a willingness to review and adapt your desired state as they evolve. Puppet Comply and CEMs are frequently updated to incorporate the most recent benchmarks and guides to help you maintain a compliant desired state – and Comply allows you to dial in your desired compliance with exception tracking and custom rules down to the node level.

🇦🇺 ANZ-based? Or doing business there? Learn more about using Puppet for ACSC Essential 8 compliance >>

Puppet understands government risk management pain points and how automation can help ease them without slowing down innovation. Government agencies and contractors rely on Puppet Enterprise to effectively and intelligently automate system configurations across thousands of servers without needing hundreds of hours of manual work. This reduced burden means IT staff can be redeployed to more strategic efforts and agency-wide digital transformations can be accomplished faster and more effectively.

Get a demo of Puppet products for your government IT infrastructure management – or contact us for more information about building a public sector automation fabric that builds both flexibility and resilience into your digital infrastructure.


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