Local IT departments feel the economic pinch
Local government information technology (IT) departments are tightening their belts in response to the nation’s economic slowdown, according to national surveys by the Washington-based Public Technology Institute (PTI). IT managers are looking at new ways to reduce expenses, such as collaborating with other agencies to reduce duplication and using “virtualization” to eliminate unneeded servers.
PTI’s “The State of City and County IT 2008” survey, released in October, found that 38 percent of local government IT budgets are likely to decrease over the next two years. More than half of the local government chief information officers (CIOs) and IT department directors who responded to the survey said budgets for staff development and training would remain the same, but that those for staff travel to educational events would decrease. Another PTI survey released in January identified several major issues facing IT departments in the next year, including reductions in full-time staff and overall spending cuts as revenue sources continue to shrink in the ongoing recession.
Tallahassee, Fla.’s IT department has seen its budget shrink for the past two years, says its CIO Don DeLoach. In response, the department has started to investigate how it could collaborate with other governments in the region to provide services and reduce costs, and it has been using virtualization — which allows IT administrators to operate on multiple systems on one machine using specialized software — to reduce maintenance costs and keep staffing levels to a minimum. “Cross-training is more important than ever, and flexible work schedules will be given a harder look this year,” DeLoach says.
Like DeLoach, Johnson County, Kan., IT Director Jack Clegg has seen his budget dwindle over the past year. “We’re being asked to hold vacancies open and reduce our travel to only necessary travel,” Clegg says. Clegg will be prioritizing his department’s service, and he hopes to avoid taking more desperate measures. “Of course, the goal is not to lay people off,” he says.
Training should be a priority
Washtenaw County, Mich., Assistant County Manager and CIO David Behen says training should be the last thing IT departments cut. “You’re going to ask people to do more, and you’re going to ask them to do it with less people, so you really need to develop those people, not only professionally, but personally, so that they can handle this [staff] reduction,” he says.