Is technology a part of your city’s long term vision? If not, it should be. While most cities have long term plans for economic development or infrastructure improvement, the prevailing thinking is that IT planning only covers short-term immediate needs that don’t go beyond the next budget cycle. However, such planning is reactionary and misses the opportunity of using IT to strengthen the city’s overall vision and act as a catalyst for quickly bringing important city projects to completion. By discussing your future IT needs within the context of the larger vision of the city, projects involving a technology-related investment become much more compelling to city council and other decision makers who might otherwise get bogged down by only technical aspects. Here are a few tips for making IT planning an integral part of your overall vision for the city.
Create a Long Term Technology Vision
Before you can understand how IT fits into the city’s overall plan, you’ll need to explore how technology may help enable the city’s vision. Stay away from specifics like “buy a new accounting system” and focus on more general themes that enable the city’s larger goals. For instance, if the city’s economic development plan is to bring new business to the downtown area, the technology component might be “To implement technologies and tools that help attract new business to the city.” If the city’s vision is to reduce operating costs, the technology vision might be “To use IT to improve efficiency across each department.” The goal is to strengthen and enable the city’s overall vision by harnessing IT across the entire city instead of budgeting for IT in isolation or to benefit single departments.
Build a Project List
Once you’ve solidified how IT will enable your city’s vision, start tackling exactly how it’s going to come to fruition. Most city visions are accomplished by completing a number of small, highly specific projects. To use our examples from above, technology projects to attract new businesses might include a new website that makes the city look more attractive to outsiders, improving broadband internet connectivity in the downtown area, and providing access to web-based advertising, eCommerce, and online permitting services. Projects to help reduce operating costs might include using new products and services that reduce paper-based, manual, or redundant processes, updating IT hardware to more energy efficient and modern standards, or replacing expensive software licenses with more cost-effective alternatives. Work closely with your IT staff or vendor to perform an assessment for each affected department to determine the scope and priority of the project list, always with the overall vision in mind.
Perform Yearly Evaluations
Experience dictates that over the course of carrying out the city’s vision, many things can and will change. Perhaps implementation takes longer than expected or there is an economic downturn and the city has less money with which to budget. Whatever the case may be, sit down with city decision makers on a yearly basis (or more often if warranted) and provide an evaluation of the plan. Are projects on schedule? Does the city have appropriate budget dollars allocated? Have priorities shifted or changed? When initially designing project plans, try to add flexibility so that changing course is quick and painless. Provide clear course correction points at which the city could modify or stop the plan without much impact to earlier projects. The IT plan for attracting new businesses might include provisions for decreasing the scope of online services if demand is low, or the cost reduction plan might indicate provisions for implementing the cheapest projects first because of budget limitations. With that said, try not to make the plan so flexible that it constantly changes and creates chaos for your implementation staff. Like all things, you’ll need to create a balance between a concrete plan and a flexible one.
As your city looks forward to the future, make it a high priority to include technology planning as a key component of the city’s future goals. Sticking to a consistent vision for technology not only makes planning individual projects easier but it also provides a way to discuss these changes with a citizenry that is becoming more increasingly aware and interested in how their government is using technology to make it more available and transparent. Such plans are also a great way to help city council truly grasp how technology goes beyond short-term reactive budgets and instead enables long-term growth and stability at the city. That’s a vision everyone can get behind.
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A good trick along the way is to work hard to balance putting necessary structure with also keeping loose and agile. Formal processes but room to innovate.
Indeed. The main problem many cities face is thinking of IT more like a utility (ie cost center) rather than something that can really drive innovation, cost-cutting and efficiency in their organization. All too often, it comes down to the bare bones cost and rarely are there studies done to show the fringe benefits of implementing a given technology.
True…seems like a common problem with companies as well. More focus on reducing cost rather than driving change and making huge improvements.