GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/Spend with caution
Hampered by the past three budget cycles, many public sector organizations have been neglecting critical IT infrastructure projects. However, according to an August study by Reston, Va.-based research firm Input, state and local government IT spending is expected to increase by 8 percent over the next five years. But as most public sector budgets improve, IT managers should remember the valuable lessons learned about fiscal discipline and management during lean times.
Undoubtedly, the past three years have been difficult for public sector IT managers. Cutbacks in capital and operations budgets postponed new equipment acquisitions and delayed many projects. In some cases, equipment is so old that vendors have discontinued support. However, that outdated hardware and software remains in place as the infrastructure for critical applications. To avoid lavish spending on overhauling IT systems, public sector managers should adopt the following three key practices.
- Better manage existing resources
The old adage is, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” but many IT managers do not have a thorough understanding of their existing resources. While many monitoring products for individual pieces of IT systems exist, most provide little useful information for understanding the behavior of the whole system. New software tools can provide IT managers with detailed component-level performance measurements as well as end-user-oriented views of applications. Understanding performance from those perspectives can help managers make better buying decisions and increase IT capacity when and where it is needed most.
- Concentrate on doing a few things very well
As coffers fill, the desire to tackle the next project may become stronger. But before embarking on new paths, IT managers should make sure existing responsibilities are fulfilled by taking an inventory of staff skills and documenting areas that need improvement. If IT departments bill other agencies for their services, then managers should document services furnished and publish performance levels. Managers should ensure their customer service is satisfactory for existing tasks before adding new ventures.
- Centralize common functions
Dedicated IT professionals can provide computer and network services more reliably and cost-effectively than any other division of an organization. Core IT functions — such as backup/recovery, telephony, networking, e-mail and authentication services — are all more economical when handled by a central IT department. The degree to which any organization centralizes IT functions and decision-making is open for debate, but, in the end, economies of scale and process automation favor centralization. In return for increased authority and control, the central IT organization owes the rest of the departments documented and predictable levels of service. The end-user agency is the customer, and the customer will be satisfied or look elsewhere for IT services.
The return to fiscal health is a welcome change for everyone in the public sector. If IT managers keep a healthy approach to their departments, they will be in better shape to weather the next economic downturn.
The author is director of state and local government and higher education sales for Irvine, Calif.-based Quest Software.