3 Ways to Reduce IT Budgets in the Public Sector

By Brett Swartz, Director of Public Sector, Liferay

I’m not exactly breaking new ground by saying that public sector organizations are constantly under pressure to do more with less. That applies to IT as much as it does to any department. Fortunately, there are ways to cut costs in a way that doesn’t reduce effectiveness. While each organization is unique, I’ve highlighted three steps that should offer most IT departments a way forward.

Moving Workloads to the Cloud: The emergence of cloud computing is perhaps the biggest IT revolution of the past few years. Public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) have allowed small startups to compete with established players by harnessing a level of computing power that was previously the exclusive preserve of the largest organizations.

But it’s not just startups. IT leaders in the public sector can also realize major cost savings by moving workloads to the cloud. In research cited by TechRepublic 84 percent of IT leaders “said they plan to move more workloads to the cloud within the next two years.” Cost was a major factor in their decisions – “94 percent of respondents said the cloud would reduce setup and maintenance costs, and 47 percent said their IT costs would drop by 30-50 percent from the use of cloud infrastructure and apps.”

Unfortunately, unlike many of your counterparts in the private sector, public sector organizations face additional regulatory hurdles. As a result, you will not be able to migrate all workloads to the cloud, particularly in cases where sensitive information is involved. For example, regulation may prohibit the storage of information related to a citizen’s finances or health records in a public cloud environment.

The compromise may be to move the workload in question to a private cloud environment, although some organizations may decide that it makes more sense to maintain those workloads on-premise. Still, in the vast majority of cases the cloud offers significant potential for cost savings while maintaining compliance with all legal and regulatory restrictions.

Reducing Licensing Costs with Open Source: In covering the impressive cost saving results of Honolulu’s IT department for Government Technology, reporter Dawn Kawamoto spoke with Mark Wong, CIO and director of the Department of Information Technology for the city and county of Honolulu. Asked to explain how he did it, Wong pointed to open source software as the biggest contributing factor. As Kawamoto writes, “the biggest cost savings have come from developing a large portion of the city’s software in-house with open source software and reducing the need to pay re-licensing fees or costly consultants.”

Mark Wong and the city and county of Honolulu are far from the only organization to save money using open source. For example, CIO reported earlier this year on how the agrochemical company Monsanto used open source geospatial software to analyze crop performance and yield. By using a free, open source, offering Monsanto was not only able to realize substantial cost savings, the company also had the ability to customize the solution to fit their particular use case. The are countless other stories of sophisticated IT organizations that have saved money with customized, open source solutions.

Emphasizing Self-Service: As part of his campaign to cut costs, Honolulu’s Mark Wong also made investments in citizen self-service. Specifically, Wong directed his team to build and deploy a system of kiosks in “such locations as the city’s service centers where residents can conduct transactions like paying for utility bills, buying bus passes or purchasing permits for picnics.” Such a system not only increases citizen satisfaction by allowing residents to more quickly and easily engage with city and county services, it also saves on costs by freeing public servants from spending time on routine matters.

Honolulu is far from the only jurisdiction to direct IT resources towards enabling resident self-service in recent years. According to reporting from Government Technology’s Zack Quaintance the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has deployed self-service kiosks in locations up and down the state. Although the kiosks are specifically focused on license registration and renewal (they cannot perform all tasks), they are still extremely valuable. Some six million registration renewals were processed by August 2017. Residents are happy and the DMV labor force becomes more efficient, a true win-win.

To summarize, when I was growing up I was told that there’s no such thing as a “free lunch.” While that may be true, it turns out that from IT’s perspective you can get a meal that’s cheap and good for you. By moving workloads to the cloud where possible, leveraging open source software and empowering citizens to complete routine tasks, public sector IT organizations can simultaneously save on costs while improving citizen and employee satisfaction.

Are these strategies applicable in your organization? Did I miss any important points? Let me know in the comments below!

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