After months of negotiations in Congress, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is about to become law. This new law will address specifics such as climate change, sustainability, and cybersecurity that all have specific requirements which, in turn, will drive your policy and regulation in the future. If you do business with the US federal government or you support its extended supply chain (I’m looking at you, critical infrastructure), your security, resiliency, and carbon footprint will all be part of your new regulatory norm. Even if you aren’t directly impacted by critical infrastructure, the ripple in the pond will eventually catch up with you when products, strategies, and funding for these opportunities require thoughtful risk alignment. Find the opportunities and liabilities in your approach to the new, well-funded normal.
- Tech leaders will benefit from the innovation but not with 5G for rural workers. The world benefited from the space race with innovations in insulation, rugged materials, and more. New “smart infrastructure” spending will similarly work its way into general technology use cases. Internet of things will be prominent in new infrastructure, rapidly maturing the components and software for use elsewhere. Smart buildings, physical robots, and ubiquitous sensors will transform business technology 18 to 24 months after they appear in hard infrastructure like highways, railways, and bridges. But with all the other innovation — and although Washington power brokers spout ebullient promises about how 5G will eliminate the digital divide in rural areas — don’t believe it. Low Earth orbiting satellite services like SpaceX’s Starlink offer more promise than 5G in many of these regions. Such satellite services are covered in the broadband apportionment of the new bill.
- Chief information security officers finally have a seat at the table, enshrined in law. We have said for years that cybersecurity needs to be woven into the fabric of what the government does with citizens, and we have finally been heard. Section 119 of title 23 United States Code has been amended with this law to include cybersecurity threats with requirements like “Implement activities to protect segments of the National Highway System from cybersecurity threats” as part of the National Highway Performance Program. And if you want any of the money available for climate, your charging stations must be secured. Cyber is part of your design to win the bid. Finally, in our biggest win, cyber incidents will get disaster designation, and funding will be available to victims when overcoming a cyber disaster.
- Sales leaders must realign to remote work and be the first line of transparency. The changes in remote work will break down geographic constraints that govern territory design and account assignments based on where sales talent is located and create opportunities for new markets/industries/verticals and buyers. But as sales addresses how customers are impacted by the changes resulting from this bill, they will need training and enablement in the language of sustainability to differentiate their company by showing an understanding of the government’s requirements and responding correctly to RFPs/requests for information.
- Broadband investment will further normalize remote work. Continuing with the broadband theme, an unexpected outcome from the $65 billion included for it will be in how it shapes remote work for the future. The pandemic made painfully clear that broadband access is lacking in many areas, hampering both work and school. The bill tackles this by funding broadband rollout in low-access areas and subsidizing low-income households. The upgrades will have the indirect effect of solidifying the new belief that — thanks to reliable, high-speed access — anyone can and will learn, train, and work from anywhere.
- Climate technology gets the funding it needs to make a market (and you will need it). The infrastructure bill considers climate technology to be significant to its strategy for leveraging American manufacturing to build the new green technology. To accomplish that, they address abatement, sustainability, and resiliency as well as carbon usage and sustainability plans in their supply chains. Look for official studies into the assessment of using digital tools and platforms for climate solutions such as AI/machine learning, blockchain technologies, crowdsourcing platforms, distributed computing for the grid, and software systems. If companies want to keep their federal contract with the Department of Energy or the Department of Transportation, they’ll have to report their carbon accounting and how they are addressing climate change.
- Foundational investment in supply chains paves the road for crisis stabilization. Repairing the nation’s transportation for roads and bridges, railroads, airports, and ports of entry is just one aspect of improvements critical in helping to stabilize the current supply chain crisis. If road and bridge infrastructure can compress driving time from, say, Long Beach, CA, to Denver from 14 hours to 11 hours, there would be substantial logistics savings. In due course, supply chain leaders can expect to enjoy shorter lead times from suppliers and reduce the safety stock they hold. In addition to investment on hard infrastructure, supply chains will get a boost from the cybersecurity funding to help public- and private-sector organizations improve their cybersecurity maturity to prevent future ransomware and cyberattacks at the supplier level.
- Businesses will need consistent strategies for addressing related values issues. Arguments about the infrastructure law aren’t going away. In fact, some debates — for example, how to pay for it and its climate and social implications — are still ramping up. That’s why companies that are affected by the law need clear, consistent strategies for if and how they’ll address the political, social, and environmental issues associated with it. Otherwise, they’ll be inconsistent and hurt their authenticity with the majority of US consumers for whom company values influence purchase decisions. Businesses that want to take a systematic approach should first determine their overall values strategy and then execute on-brand responses to individual issues with sensitivity and credibility.
- Spending oversight and strategies of the government are geopolitical risk. And like most geopolitical risks, you plan accordingly. If you’re looking to secure any of the trillion-dollar-plus funding, know your own carbon footprint before you ask to be part of the government supply chain. As far as oversight, the US Government Accountability Office (US GAO) will still be the enforcement mechanism, but they will have more controls to test around sustainability, risk management, and cybersecurity.
- Federal IT will need a future fit overhaul to avoid stifling implementation. To help deliver on post-COVID-19 recovery programs like the new infrastructure law, the US federal government has allocated funds to improve its IT. However, federal IT shops have a history of failing to use funds like these effectively. Two key hurdles prevent federal IT orgs from spending improvement funds effectively: 1) IT shops’ low risk tolerance in the face of audits and scrutiny from oversight bodies that IT staff perceive to hinder the adoption of modern technology practices and 2) politically charged technology prohibitions and requirements that IT staff perceive constrain tech procurement. To overcome these hurdles and help implement the infrastructure law, federal IT orgs should shift their focus from legacy systems to becoming future fit.