The Rapidly Evolving Landscape of Public Sector Technology

Data from the Pew Charitable Trusts suggest that while the fiscal conditions in many states have grown healthier since the end of the Great Recession, recoveries are uneven, with nineteen states not yet returning to pre-recession tax collections.  Doing more with less has evolved into less of a crisis-driven mantra, and more to a new norm for how public sector services will be budgeted and operated.  And, even with this uneven recovery, the federal government remains the second-largest source of state revenue, accounting for nearly 31 percent of the total in fiscal 2014.  However, as noted by Pew, states’ reliance on federal funds varies widely, ranging from about 17 percent of revenue in North Dakota to almost 41 percent in Mississippi.  Information technology (IT), the elixir which propels private sector companies, is often not leveraged as efficiently or effectively in the public sector.

Yet, even with ongoing funding challenges, there are several key areas in the IT ecosystem that require focused attention.  The first is cyber security.  For the third year, cyber security has ranked as the key technology issue among Chief Information Officers (CIO), according to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).  Today, no one disputes that state governments need to be focused on cyber security.  The National Governor’s Association (NGA) release in 2013 of Act and Adjust: A Call to Action for Governors for Cyber security, provided concrete, strategic recommendations for states to diminish cyber security risks.  And in 2016, the NGA unveiled the Chair’s Initiative, Meet the Threat: States Confront the Cyber Challenge, placing states at the center of finding solutions to the increasingly sophisticated cyber threats facing the nation.  As outlined in the work by NGA, a robust governance structure for cyber security is a foundational element in the development of a common framework to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate cyber security risks.  In a decentralized IT ecosystem, cyber security is fragmented, with individual government agencies bearing the brunt of the responsibility.  As reported by NASCIO, it is clear that cyber security has continued to rise in importance in the eyes of elected leaders across the country, with this executive-level attention proving to be an opportunity to secure resources and support for state cyber security programs

In addition to securing the enterprise, governments must continue to collaboratively develop and implement shared services for IT.  A key element, as noted by the Gartner Group, is the alignment of government funding and personnel in support of adopted shared services.  A well-designed Enterprise Architecture (EA) Program would bring together the IT leadership from disparate agencies to structure a funding model, service strategy, and demand management approach that ensures all stakeholders share in the cost and subsequent value of shared services.  A robust Enterprise Architecture (EA) Program, to be effective, must be underpinned by streamlined procurement practices.  The ever-increasing demand for IT functions and services in governments has brought with it substantial increasing demands on public procurement processes.  It is incumbent on government CIOs, procurement officials, and other elected leaders to seek the optimum value in IT investments at the enterprise level.  As noted by Gartner Group, public sector leaders should aspire to align IT procurement and EA to enhance the delivery of IT services, but also – especially with constrained fiscal budgets – as a way to unearth savings through rationalized investments, with EA establishing the technical blueprint and governance for creating IT policies and standards.

Governments at all levels have bureaucratic tendencies which foster silo-ed approaches to public sector challenges.  Decentralized IT planning, budgeting, and operations increase the difficulty level and reduce the likelihood of achieving the collaboration and cooperation needed to maximize efficiencies.  Traditional IT has for many decades relied on incremental budgeting models which valued the procurement and ownership of technical infrastructure, a model still dominant across public sector agencies.  Yet, as the landscape of public sector IT rapidly evolves, the legacy approach of procuring, developing, and maintaining elaborate and expensive systems is rapidly becoming a dated, arcane strategy for IT investment.

A first step is to consider the consolidation of technology infrastructure.  The optimization of commodity technology components, including data centers, servers, and storage, accomplished in the private sector and by many state-level governments, offers prospective reductions in acquisition and continuing maintenance costs, as well as elevates the efficient usage of existing IT assets.  Gartner notes that as technology solutions and services become more commoditized, an enterprise the size of a state government can standardize on IT infrastructure to the degree practical, and can share common IT resources such as hardware, software, and environmentally controlled floor space across agency boundaries.  As a logical afterthought to a move to an optimized and rationalized technical infrastructure, is the leveraging of cloud services.  Many public sector entities have employed a “cloud first” strategy, migrating technical systems off-premise, to non-government owned and operated infrastructure.  As noted by the Gartner Group, while a one-size-fits-all approach is unwise, properly moving to cloud services does permit public agencies to pool shared services and infrastructure, allowing for rapid provisioning, flexibility, and scalability, as well as measured service.  This shift is decidedly disruptive to the traditional aspects of public sector IT, with a significant impact seen in the legislative budget development, as funds transfer in cost allocation from capital expenditures to operating expenditures.

Even in state governments that have witnessed fiscal recoveries, the need to efficaciously deliver innovative services to citizens has accelerated the demise of outmoded processes for planning, developing, and implementing IT systems and solutions.  Intensifying the financial transparency of IT assists in demonstrating both the cost and value of technology to public sector leaders and elected officials, with a goal of budgeting for IT investments to achieve results.  Uncoordinated technology decisions, as well as the procurement of duplicate technology assets, enable silo-ed, agency-specific IT spending which prevents the implementation of effective cost-saving solutions to business problems that span across the public sector.  Currently, there is an opportunity for change, but to realize that opportunity public sector leaders and elected officials must give emphasis to shared services for IT and the optimization of commodity technology components including data centers, servers, and storage, and, critically, the advancement of cyber security.

Craig P. Orgeron, Ph.D.
Executive Director at MS Department of IT Services
craig.orgeron@its.ms.gov

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