Collaboration Across Borders

Sharing IT projects with other public sector organizations can reduce costs and aid innovation.

The current budget pressure on public-sector entities requires innovative thinking. Citizens want tax revenue spent on public safety, parks, libraries and other services. They don’t get excited about information technology projects that aren’t visible to the public. So the question becomes, how do organizations pursue technology projects that are critical to the effective operation of government? In some cases, the answer is collaboration.

Government must comply with myriad federal, state and local regulations that can impede creative thinking. What’s more, many public-sector entities believe they have unique requirements to meet their customers’ needs. These factors are significant barriers to collaboration with other organizations. Effective collaboration requires effective communication, detailed planning and visible executive support. Here are some recommendations for successful IT collaboration:

Forge productive relationships among collaborators. IT projects are full of risk, and many view collaboration with another entity as additional risk. Most would not be willing to add that risk factor into a project unless they have a good working relationship with potential collaborators already in place.

Seek a collaborative partner with similar IT goals and priorities. An organization that has a critical issue to address in law enforcement is not going to collaborate with another organization on a financial system. Determine the most significant IT pain points, and find out what’s causing the pain and what options you have for eliminating it. Analyze the solution and then determine whether there are opportunities to enhance it through collaboration.

Two potential areas of advantage for collaboration are cost-sharing in the rollout or in licensing and infrastructure. For example, in a shared project involving NCTCOG and three member cities implementing software together, significant savings were achieved on the implementation because the vendor needed to provide only a single implementation team and could offer volume discounts.

As you search for a collaborator, work your public-sector IT leader contacts to find entities experiencing similar issues to those your organization faces.

Don’t spin the project. Many times executives see through spin. Even if they don’t, the spin will show signs of wear as the project progresses and will have a negative impact. Shoot straight — if the project is worthwhile, it won’t need spin.

Be persistent. I worked on a collaborative project with two other entities that took more than two years from the conceptual discussions to contract signing. My counterparts were committed to moving forward with the project. Even with the commitment of each organization, working through regulations, creating confidence for the executive leadership, reassuring the elected officials and securing buy-in from peers throughout the organization took a considerable amount of time and effort.

When done right, collaboration can help government stretch limited tax dollars to meet the pressing needs of citizens. It takes a willingness to invest time and effort to build relationships. Organizations with similar issues, needs and priorities must find each other. The temptation to spin proposed projects must be resisted. Finally, persistence pays dividends. Keeping these four recommendations in focus can significantly improve the potential for collaboration on IT projects to positively transform governmental operations.

Jul 02 2008