Finding the Nimble in Government IT
Last week, I attended the National Association of State CIOs midyear conference. While there were comments about budgets, broadband and mobility initiatives, the conversation took an unexpected turn – people were discussing the speed of new technology deployment.
Given that this is an election year, the challenges associated with new technology investments – from the glimmer of a great idea to going live – has special urgency. Elections mean changes to staff and, more importantly, priorities. The effect of periodic election cycles is often a source for discussion, and CIOs are affected more than other government staff.
Long development and deployment cycles are common with government technology projects, and it seems to be the case now as state agencies prepare for healthcare reform and to replace legacy systems. The problem is there’s often a mismatch between the urgent need for better systems and the length of time needed to design, test and deploy those systems. In the meantime, government suffers as it tries to do the same work with less staff and aging systems.
Government has to be nimble in order to implement key technologies, keep ahead of changing political initiatives and support government work. Consider these principles as you select, design and implement government solutions:
Simplify, standardize, optimize and centralize – Whatever word you use, it’s a call to simplify your organization’s IT architecture, reducing the number of systems to support so you speed up deployment and continue building your expertise on smaller, more manageable applications. Start by reusing and building upon existing systems used by other departments to speed up discovery. This also means looking for solutions with horizontal potential – solutions whose core services many departments. Sharing solutions means building upon the collective development of your organization. In this case, simple means affordable.
Avoid custom-code solutions – Custom coding is the single greatest cost factor and must be carefully explored in current budget conditions, especially given the long usage of systems.
When selecting a solution, ask vendors the hard questions about their software, like:
How many hours of service are needed?
What configuration tools are used – especially for workflow automation?
How long will it take to respond to ever-changing mandates the system must support?
Make sure you also talk with peers and check references beyond those provided by vendors.
Go mobile – Mobile solutions are key to engaging faster with your constituents AND providing better, faster service to them. Your solution must be able to easily support field staff without difficulty and multiple moving parts. As we replace the current generation of solutions, we need to take advantage of mobile capabilities to improve government service.
Cloud – Cloud solutions offer web-based delivery of computing and storage, and may be the answer for ECM challenges that need immediate solutions. This is because the software provider deploys, manages and maintains the solution while you focus on more important initiatives.
Things to ask vendors when considering a cloud-based solution include:
Is there an available hosted option?
Is it proven?
How many deployments have been done?
What security features are offered?
Who owns the data?
If you chose a premise-based solution, what’s the ease of migration?
Government isn’t known for nimble IT, which is understandable given the disparate legacy systems they run. Fortunately, our collective technical know-how is vastly better than it used to be – better code, applications, mobile ability and hardware. So, there is no reason government can’t move faster on IT deployment while surviving political cycles and changing regulatory environments. These ideas are just part of finding the nimble in government IT and making it successful.