Government IT leaders seek new talent
Government belt tightening, coinciding with baby boomer retirements and an increased demand for technology upgrades, is forcing city and county information technology (IT) leaders to adjust their management strategies and expand their management skills. Many government IT leaders are seeking continuing education to build business skills into their tech knowledge at the same time they are reorganizing their operations to cope with reduced budgets.
Public IT professionals are attacking the many demands on their departments from a number of angles, and they are looking for help in doing so, says Alan Shark, executive director for the Public Technology Institute (PTI), a Washington-based research organization serving city and county IT departments. PTI is working with the University of North Carolina, Rutgers and Florida State University to develop a national certification program for chief information officers of cities and counties. The purpose of the training is to help CIOs run their departments more efficiently and to develop better business sense, instead of just technological savvy, Shark says. “There’s a crying need for more training and development,” he says. “The technology leader of an organization is like being conductor of a symphony, where everyone plays an instrument, but someone’s got to tie it together. It works better when you have someone orchestrating it, constantly looking at the flow of working these things together.”
Meanwhile, IT leaders are exploring ways to streamline their IT systems, such as reducing the number of physical servers they use to reduce the demand for maintenance and, thus, manpower. The San Marcos, Texas, IT Department has virtualized more servers so the city’s tech employees can maintain the city’s computers remotely, says Richard Stankiewicz, director of technology services and chief technology officer. “We’ve reduced the number of our physical servers by 60 percent,” Stankiewicz says. “Last year, we saved about $320,000 out of our IT budget.” San Marcos had a $1.4 million budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, about $780,000 of which went toward salaries and benefits for its eight full-time employees.
By having fewer servers, the department also is reducing the amount of maintenance that has to be conducted. “Now, they only have to manage one big server as opposed to 80 small servers. So, it’s using my personnel more efficiently,” Stankiewicz says.
The city also has decentralized many of its IT functions, so each department, such as parks or fire, gave a staff member the added responsibility of making minor technology fixes. “They can look at a printer and say, ‘Oh, we’re out of paper, or we need more ink — those types of things, while they’re still doing their regular 40-hour-a-week jobs,” Stankiewicz says.
Another solution San Marcos has tried is supplementing its staff with interns from Texas State University. “We pay them minimum wage, which helps them with their finances, and they bring us a lot of good information on new technologies and what the academic arena is promoting,” Stankiewicz says.
The key to success is that local governments have to be willing to evolve to accommodate today’s IT work force needs, Shark says. “The requirements [for a CIO] are different than they were 10 years ago by far on the city and county level,” he says.