One of the scariest parts of being an IT decision-maker is the risk that the solutions you pick will fail or not perform as you believed they would when you bought them. And, sometimes, the time it takes to design and deploy means the solution is deployed just as it becomes obsolete. In government’s current budget and staffing crisis, you can see why CIOs might pause before buying new solutions.
Unfortunately, all levels of government identify technology as one of the key strategies for their futures, so IT investments need to happen. This comes at a time when many states, counties and cities are reporting twin sobering realities: reduced staff and difficulty hiring qualified staff. It seems odd, given the overall employment picture, but apparently the difficulty in recruiting good IT staff to government continues, despite private sector unemployment levels. This means that even positions that can be filled are not.
So now the equation for IT decision-makers looks like this: less staff, less money, unfilled positions and increased citizen demands for technology-driven services and applications. How can CIOs and IT staff move forward? Here are some thoughts on how to manage the risk, embrace the technologies that will save government during tough times and use tax dollars more efficiently.
- Reduce the number of solutions you are supporting. The words “optimize, consolidate and collaborate” are heard everywhere in government discussions. It’s time to revisit what you are supporting and eliminate redundant solutions – especially when the data and documents in those systems form a common layer of government responsibility. For example, document management and workflow automation can be realized from the same single solution rather than multiple and disparate repositories. This frees up time now spent in learning, managing and supporting multiple systems and makes cross-departmental work move faster because they also benefit from sharing the same system for managing documents and processes.
- Re-visit what you are supporting from a maintenance task and cost perspective. Multiple solutions also means multiple maintenance payments, upgrades and the complexity associated with managing all of the moving parts. Because we often buy our solutions at a department level, we usually do not see “the total picture” of the cost and the support needs of separate systems. This is no longer sustainable and may not meet trends already mentioned such as smartphone apps or mobility and field work support. Bad budget times are a good time to revisit all of this and see which solutions can carry you through these next trends. That review should include the vendors themselves and their upgrade paths, how they respond to the trends YOU have to face and what those maintenance charges are today and into the future.
- Look for integrated code, not “acquired code”. Like all businesses, software companies monitor trends and develop new products to meet needs. Sometimes, they can’t develop fast enough or they see another complimentary application that they buy to meet the end-to-end needs of their customers. Then they face a problem: making the pieces talk to each other and work together well. And, when you add that challenge to the permutations caused by the differences in deployment environments, many potential problems for government are created. The more you want to expand the scope and create end-to-end solutions that truly derive the value from your investment, the harder it will stress applications that were not developed together, tested together and deployed thousands of times together. So, as you consider solutions, be sure to ask how the code was developed because code that was acquired and factored in later can lead to deployment problems that your stretched staff will have to support today and into the future. Think “one code, one vendor.”
Today’s challenges for government IT decision-makers are significant. Fortunately, severe times produce innovation in government and new and different questions are being asked before purchasing decisions are made. Revising our approach to support, maintenance and the “code under the hood” can lead to long-term sustainability of the solutions you choose, positioning your department to be more effective and efficient. So, as you plan your budgets and strategies, remembering maxims like “one code, one vendor” can be the key to sustainable and defensible government IT decisions.