As Budgets Shrink, IT Departments Benefit From Creative Modernization

Departmental budgets are growing smaller across the board. As you make adjustments for the shortfalls,  think twice about how you go about shrinking your IT (information technology) department budget. If the technology that supports your organization runs smoothly, it is not because it runs all on its own. Meet the challenge of a diminishing IT department with what we’ll call creative modernization.

The functions of IT departments have changed in recent years. A division has a heart that pumps out data, correspondence and currency; the IT department is the regulatory system (circulation). The entire body feels any deficiency in this system. Indeed, customer service, facilities maintenance, human resources, finance and other departments are critical. So is information technology.

Understanding IT Responsibilities

There is no “typical” way to set up an IT Department. A lot depends on the workload, type of services delivered and clientele. For a basic outlook, we could begin with 5 key positions. Bear in mind that the job descriptions below are fluid and in some cases could intersect. There may also be other layers such as database management, software development or website administrator.

IT Director – oversees all technology implementation and is the most senior technology officer and spokesperson for the division. As an executive, this person may be called Chief Information Officer, or CIO.

Network Administrator – responsible for maintaining computer infrastructures within a managed system of connected routers, switches, servers and a variety of devices.

System Administrator, or “sysadmin” for short – configures and maintains workstations (computers) and servers and enforces security and policy rules.

Network Security Administrator – secures the network from internal and external threats, protects privacy and helps to meet compliance obligations.

Support Specialist, or Help Desk – provides technical support and/or digital coaching for internal customers (staff) and external customers (vendors, citizens, and contractors, for example).

When budget cuts loom, think more about the totality of the team and its overall function rather than simply reducing staff and resources.

Today’s IT Departments Rely on Scalability

Tech Republic’s Deb Shinder believes that IT department modernization should honor both functional and interpersonal strengths to be more resilient and flexible. While her vision it towards expansion, it is also possible to apply these principles when it becomes necessary to scale downwards:

IT staff redundancy:
Assigning extra chores to anyone available may not be a good idea if that person ends up becoming your Johannes factotum (“Jack of all trades”). While most employees do not mind the grind of a special project, unending pressure is neither good for health nor morale. It may also lead to turnover, loss of momentum, and increased errors. According to Shinder, you should create redundancy within your IT department, just as you back up data and plan for power and connectivity interruptions.

Knowledge overflow:
Silos form when lines of information don’t interconnect. Don’t lose the gem of an idea that a team member would have contributed if only he had known what was being planned. Protect business-confidential information, but do share overall strategy. It is possible that someone on your Help Desk has noted a pattern of behavior from customers that could stop the momentum of a new initiative.

Don’t be afraid to restructure:
During modification, watch to see if the organizational structure or internal reporting systems in need to be rearranged. Share periodic overviews with everyone on the team as a short read with bullet points. Provide avenues for feedback and ideas without prejudice. Welcome information no matter how it is packaged. Chains of command should remain clear  as the group evolves.

Use creative modernization to deliver service excellence

Now that you have given the IT organization a thorough once-over, the aspect of “creative modernization” kicks in. The idea is to level up on service even as you pare down costs. Remember, the robustness of your IT department will affect everyone’s experience. Consider this an opportunity to modernize and become more efficient, not just leaner. If you need a guide to how to proceed, perhaps someone else’s experience is a good teacher…

As the Public Sector Director of software innovation firm Liferay, Brett Swartz often encounters clients with needs that outstrip their budgets. Over the years, the company has implemented transformational solutions that reduce expenses but don’t skimp on service delivery:

  • Support internal communications and pre-deployment familiarization
  • Be prepared to note troubled patterns of events as soon as they happen
  • Concentrate on training, and seek feedback from internal and external customers

The recipe for success includes judicious use of cloud technologies, application development (or open source as appropriate), and effective self-service options. Read “3 Ways to Reduce Budgets in the Public Sector” for greater detail.

IT supports everyday operations, compliance, security and innovation. Your administrative staff, vendors, contractors and customer service personnel all rely on solid tech. This diverse clientele consists of internal and external customers who all depend on IT. The call to reduce expenditures is a golden opportunity strengthen the customer experience through creative modernization.

Anita Davis is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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