Hard Times Bring Innovation

The Center for Digital Government reports state and local governments are refocusing on core services and opportunities to collaborate.

When times get tough, government gets more innovative and collaborative. That's the message state and local government IT leaders should take from last week's Beyond the Beltway conference.

Held in McLean, Va., and co-hosted by the Center for Digital Government, Government Technology and TechAmerica, the event focused on the current market for IT. Organizers note that state and local governments are expected to spend $92.5 billion on IT products and services this year, while federal government IT procurement is expected to reach only $75.8 billion.

As everyone is well aware, this year has brought many operational challenges, noted Cathilea Robinett, executive vice president of the Center for Digital Government. Public-sector organizations have endured personnel reductions, hiring freezes, furloughs, reduced funding and deep budget cuts. What's more, there's uncertainty in a big election year. As many as 23 governors will be termed out or retire, and another 14 governors are seeking re-election. That leaves only 13 states without an election this year.

IT departments are responding to the budget challenges and uncertainty with cross-jurisdictional initiatives, collaboration, consolidation and centralization, innovation and data system standardization. "The concept of turf is really changing," said Robinett. CIOs are considering open-source software and offering services such as e-mail to smaller townships.

Health and human services are getting the largest slice of the pie from current budgets. There's a big focus on health information exchanges, Medicaid Management Information Systems  and child support systems.

In Administration and Finance departments, Robinett said she hadn't heard about enterprise resource planning systems for years, but those are popping up again. The Center for Digital Government is seeing a much greater focus on analytics and dashboards to help agencies make proper budgeting decisions. Utah, Washington, D.C., and Chicago are just a few of the governments focused on performance data. "Performance is really driving the conversation," she said.

IT leaders should keep an eye on the potential for a multistate unemployment system. Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee are conducting a feasibility study. Other big projects include Massachusetts' driver's license modernization project and cloud computing proposals in Colorado and New York.

Robinett pointed out that recovery funding presents a cliff that's cushioning shortfalls for now, but will disappear by 2012. In the near term, state and local governments will continue to experience budget shortfalls and need to prepare for a new normal. Ongoing IT operations will require a greater focus on performance metrics and outcomes and evaluation of government's core services.

Mar 30 2010