IT infrastructure in government is getting a post-pandemic makeover
As Congress deliberates future U.S. infrastructure projects and how to pay for them, government IT chiefs have named technology infrastructure priorities for 2021. According to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), this year’s Top10 list of technology priorities includes cybersecurity, remote work tools and cloud solutions.
Post-pandemic, some government technology budgets will grow and others will shrink, predicts Christopher Montgomery, chief strategy and innovation officer, state and local government, at Dell Technologies. The company offers end-to-end technology solutions that aid in digital transformation. Montgomery believes that the government financial recovery in 2021-2022 is going to be unevenly distributed.
He predicts that the biggest budget driver will be local conditions. “Some government agencies are coming out of the pandemic with their budgets intact or even flush with money and are receiving stimulus on top of that. Other agencies are finding themselves in a big hole that not even the additional stimulus will fill,” Montgomery explains. “Governments that are flush with money will likely continue to spend or increase IT investments while those with large budget holes will be focused on restoring basic services.”
He adds that IT leaders who proved themselves to be indispensable in the pandemic will find themselves with more projects and money than they know what to do with. In some cases, this will be true even if their municipality is struggling financially. Those visionary IT administrators, adds Montgomery, have demonstrated to their leadership that they can leverage technology to help reduce overall operating costs.
Montgomery offers a final prediction: “If the signal of stimulus funding for unemployment insurance systems holds for other investments, government leaders are also going to invest in repairing the points of failure that made themselves apparent during the pandemic. This would be a departure from past crises where the root causes were often not fixed when the crisis was over.” This will be good for taxpayers, but possibly not for the IT leaders who were unfortunate enough to be operating those systems when they failed, he adds.
Montgomery believes lean-staffed government procurement departments are facing bigger workloads. “Government IT continues to become more complex, with every organization supporting more technology solutions than ever.” He adds that there’s been an increase in security and management tools required to support those technologies, and more complex licensing agreements that frequently require annual audits and budget reconciliations. “All these changes increase the burden on both IT and their procurement partners. The IT procurement team is completing more RFPs, issuing more contracts and responding to more audits than ever before, often with the same number of staff or fewer than they had in the past.”
Montgomery says cooperative purchasing agreements are one potential solution that government IT procurement teams can use to reduce their workloads and be more responsive. “Starting with a set of vendors that have already participated in a competitive process and set either a maximum or final price for their product can often completely eliminate the need to issue a request for proposals (RFP).” He adds that these agreements allow the municipality to move directly to an award, reducing the procurement team’s workload. They can also potentially save months or years in the project timeline. Go here to see how OMNIA Partners’ cooperative purchasing agreements fit into local government procurement.
Whether a procurement team is familiar with technology-related terms and conditions could affect the timely completion of an IT buy, Montgomery believes. “Many initiatives stall due to lack of familiarity with the products and services buyers want to procure. When you think about it, an organization buys an enterprise resource planning (ERP) package best case every five years—but in the public sector, five becomes eight, 10 or 12 years far too often than we would like to admit. Procurement staffers don’t see purchases like this but a few times during their tenure, often leading its way to compare apples and oranges in terms of contract language. It can be difficult and frustrating for everyone involved.”
Montgomery suggests the following: “I recommend leveraging peer agencies that have done this before and apply lessons learned. Also, tap into external parties for support. This also lends value to leveraging cooperative purchase agreements and piggyback contracts.” On piggyback deals, an existing contract is used to acquire the same commodities or services at the same or lower price through another public entity contract.
For agencies that need more cash in their 2022 budgets for additional or updated IT equipment, software or staff, Montgomery suggests that they shake the money tree. “State and local governments should look for grant funding from various sources including the federal government. There are currently many grants available that can be used for IT projects. Most local governments do not have staff that can find and apply for these grants, and that is where a vendor partner such as Dell Technologies can help. We have a grants office site that can help identify grant funding for IT projects. It is available to our local government customers at no cost.”
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County. Contact him at [email protected].