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To Transform Your Technology, First Transform Your Organization

A few days ago, we highlighted King County’s governmental offices’ transition to cloud computing. We threw around a bit of tech jargon as well – virtualization, software as a service, and legacy systems.

However, for King County, the technology simply served as an enabler for the changes currently taking shape. The real transformation took place at the organizational level.

Bill Kehoe, Chief Information Officer of King County, discussed some of these changes with GovLoop. “We really want to get to a point where our customers, the business groups, don’t care where their services are running,” said Kehoe.

Organizational Changes in King County IT Offices

In 2011, King County offices underwent a very dramatic change: it consolidated its eight discrete IT divisions into one. In the old model, each of the eight executive departments had its own IT shop, which inevitably led to technology redundancy in some areas and application silos in others. But by consolidating IT, the CIO had the opportunity to work across the enterprise to find efficiencies and cost savings.

“We’re moving [IT] towards a service organizational model,” said Kehoe. “We now have defined end-user services from which our customers order, and then we charge back to them for the services and rates they select.” This has forced the organization to treat IT as its own line of business, with its own strategy within the budget. Ultimately, this provided a greater incentive to find efficiencies and performance metrics.

So what does this have to do with cloud?

A Bit of Context: Changes in Public Sector IT

It’s no secret that new technologies like cloud and mobile are changing the way we interact with technology. To take an example from our personal lives, we now have access to millions of songs right on our smartphones through cloud-based music services. We can listen to those tunes in the car, at the airport – even at work. Consider that just a few years ago, to access to that same library, we’d have to invest in expensive music playing devices and a boatload of albums. Then, just a few years later, we’d discover that our previous investments were made obsolete by new technology.

Similarly, these changes are taking root in public sector organizations. With dwindling resources and an increase in demand for services, government agencies are looking for ways to escape the old system of expensive capital investments, redundant systems and rapidly aging legacy applications. Cloud computing provides an alternative model to this approach, but technology alone can’t solve all of our problems.

Without organizational change, it is possible to move the same inefficiencies and redundancies into this new IT consumption landscape. In King County, this could have meant eight different mini cloud environments, with each holding separate systems that are better used as a shared service across the enterprise. For example, as the county recent moved towards a centralized customer relationship management (CRM), the IT department used its newfound centralized role in ensuring that the organization used a single, standard platform.

[To learn more about the transformative effects of today's new IT consumption landscape, make sure to download our latest guide, Innovations that Matter: The Future of Public Sector IT Consumption.]

King County’s Approach: Focus on Services

The changing role for the CIO’s office has meant a changing role for IT folks in the organization as well. In the past, IT personnel would be responsible for building solutions out of business requirements – much like a contractor works on a home. But by taking a service-based approach, the role is much more expansive.

“Our service teams are now responsible for picking the right environment for the customer – whether that is the cloud, on-premise or even on individual servers,” said Kehoe.

In this way, the service teams now wear a variety of hats – broker, planner, architect, or builder – depending on the need. But ultimately, the decision rests in the hands of those who are funding the project.

“In the past, the executive officer would give us a [budgetary] number and we’d just have to deal with it,” said Kehoe. “Now we have a service structure so we say it’s not about cutting staff in IT, it is about the services you’re consuming.

“We say to business units, ‘If you want to spend less on IT, then you have to look at the services you are consuming,’” said Kehoe. “Then we might say, ‘If you want to be more efficient, you can move to virtualized environments.’’ This doesn’t just apply to cloud computing or network options – it applies to all aspects of IT, including printing and mobile devices.

“It’s more of a business discussion in terms of the IT service they want to consume based on their business requirements,” said Kehoe. This transforms the discussion from, ‘Hey, IT is too expensive – we need to cut IT costs,’ to a hard look at what the organization is consuming and where they can find opportunities for cost savings.

Ultimately, this process has facilitated the movement to cloud computing, since it provides very promising opportunities to confront the perennial challenge of ‘do more with less.’ Regardless of which approach the county takes, it’s laid down a very solid foundation for efficiency and cost savings.

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