Government Survey Reveals the Pitfalls and Opportunities around Application Performance


What can U.S. federal government agencies show other large organizations about digital transformation? To get an idea, Riverbed and the Government Business Council recently concluded an extensive survey of 336 mid- to high-ranking U.S. federal government employees, seeking to understand the current state of external- and internal-facing federal agency workplace applications, as well as agencies’ progress toward implementing digital transformation. The results are revealing — and not just for government agencies.

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Riverbed is no stranger to the government, with 8 of our 10 largest customers being federal entities. Some run more than a million network nodes and many are migrating to the cloud even faster than private sector entities. As such, these agencies’ experiences provide an excellent lens into the challenges faced by any large enterprise seeking to enact digital transformation, as well as possible solutions.

Hot off the press: Survey coverage by IT media

Just How Slow Is Government IT?” asks a Network World article covering the survey results, and the answer is: pretty slow. According to the article, about two-thirds of surveyed workers “felt frustrated by IT applications at least a few times a week.” Over half of respondents reported load times and responsiveness of applications as their “biggest gripe,” closely followed by application crashes or freezes.

“It’s not acceptable for consumer applications to be down in the private sector, and it shouldn’t be in government,” Davis Johnson, Riverbed Vice President of Public Sector, says in the story.

Similarly, the CIO story “Feds Frustrated by Constantly Crashing Apps” adds that 98% of surveyed government employees felt application performance outages adversely affected personal productivity. This leads to internal doubts concerning the government’s ability to successfully execute huge initiatives, such as the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census.

Ready for transformation?

Johnson told CIO that although the government is stereotyped as slow and inefficient, in actuality it has been trying to digitize processes and applications with surprising speed. They’re moving particularly quickly toward widespread adoption of cloud technologies, in some cases faster than Fortune 500 companies.

But as Johnson notes, “80% [of surveyed employees] have doubts about government’s ability to support digital transformation or migration to the cloud, because they don’t think the government has invested in the tools or the training to support these big government initiatives.”

Slow apps, late intervention

The FedTech article “Feds Frustrated by Slow Application Performance, Survey Says” highlights the survey’s results focused on performance shortcomings in specific apps. Workplace collaboration apps were most often cited as having the worst performance, followed by communication tools and database apps.

Moreover, according to the article, “nearly 1 in 3 respondents reported that it takes their agency over 24 hours to address critical application failures.” Only 10% report response times of less than an hour. In the article, Johnson is quoted as saying that “many IT departments do not have the tools to understand where problems are occurring,” due in part to the outdated, often siloed nature of their org charts, with separate teams for servers, network, cloud, and so on.

“We’re finding many federal agencies don’t have the visibility tools they need to quickly solve trouble areas before they cause application performance issues,” Johnson told Federal Times. “What’s needed to prevent performance issues from spoiling the promise of federal IT modernization and digital transformation is better end-to-end application and network visibility.”

The Riverbed perspective

Many of the problems cited by survey respondents stem from many federal agencies’ lack of visibility tools needed to quickly solve trouble areas beforethey cause application performance issues. And while the root of the problem lies in agencies’ moves to rapidly modernize infrastructure via digital transformations that should produce tangible rewards, to move forward without first having proper visibility and troubleshooting tools is a bit like putting the cart before the horse.

“There’s this perfect storm of applications being moved to cloud service providers, consolidated into fewer and fewer datacenters, which moves the applications further away from users,” says Johnson. “This makes it more and more difficult to solve problems and identify where the performance issues are.”

Recommendation 1: Focus on improving IT performance management

This is one of the survey’s two major takeaways. Many federal employees lack confidence in their agency’s ability to quickly and efficiently address problems, and nearly a quarter of respondents note the lack of a clear, defined process within their organization for reporting application issues.

“What’s needed for efficient cloud migrations and other digital transformation initiatives are solutions that can track application performance not only in the cloud, but across the network segments, across security boundaries, and all the way to the end-user device,” says Johnson.

Recommendation 2: Devote greater attention to enhancing IT applications

Surveyed federal employees believe that improved application responsiveness, increased investment in state-of-the-art technologies, better employee training, improved technical support, and other technical and nontechnical upgrades will broadly improve user experiences and application availability.

Ultimately, improved federal application visibility and analysis greatly enhances application performance, optimizes employee productivity, and quantifies measurement of IT impact on the mission. Moving forward, all larger organizations — both government and private — should consider placing a greater emphasis on maintaining and enhancing IT applications in order to ensure that the requisite resources, personnel, and planning are devoted to their upkeep.

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