March | April 2017

It's Not About I-T; It's About Good Government

By Dan Oehmke
Today’s state government information technology—IT—directors are increasingly expected to project confidence and get results while facing ambiguity, uncertainty and growing risks while the complexity and pace of change seem to rise exponentially. At the same time, government IT customers have made their expectations clear: It is not about IT; it is about enabling the objectives and outcomes of good government.
State government IT leaders face a host of challenges, among them technology convergence, IT consolidation, disruptive technologies, managing cloud solutions, aging and changing workforce demographics, weak economies, constrained budgets, increasing citizen expectations and greater scrutiny of government employees.
Not that long ago, a phone was just a phone. Now it is a mobile, pocket-sized computer that holds a wealth of sensitive, nonpublic data, a device that is easily lost or stolen, giving rise to a number of security and privacy issues. Public employees are demanding the ability to connect their personal smartphones, tablets and other devices to state networks. Email used to be a straightforward communications vehicle. Now it has converged with other technologies into a unified suite of collaborative tools with functionality for chat, video conferencing, Web conferencing and indicating a person’s presence or availability.
Meanwhile, with a persistently weak economy and reduced budgets, state government IT leaders must maintain critical, yet brittle and aging IT systems they cannot afford to replace or upgrade. Getting enough staff to do the required work is equally challenging. Demographic trends clearly show that the available IT workforce is rapidly contracting. For many state IT operations, qualified IT workers are either not available or there is no funding to hire them.
IT consolidation and cloud solutions have become attractive options to increase business capabilities, improve the depth and breadth of support, eliminate redundancies and reduce expenses, thereby freeing state IT employees to focus on higher-level, more complex interactions between IT and the business of government.
A recent joint survey on enterprise email consolidation in the states—conducted by NASTD and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers—found that: “Email consolidation efforts are finishing strong and have proved that consolidation efforts of significant magnitude can be successful. There is still resistance to consolidation efforts. Policymakers and executive management will need to continue making the case for joining up.”
When proceeding with consolidation or cloud solutions, state IT directors must consider organizational change dynamics as well. The ways of getting work done will likely change and IT generalists may need to become IT specialists. Staff who used to manage hardware and software may need to manage services, service levels and contracts when work moves to the cloud.
Despite the many challenges, the opportunity to make a difference for state government and the people it serves has never been greater for state IT directors. With IT now woven into the fabric of day-to-day work, savvy directors will overcome these challenges and make a significant impact for state employees and customers.