Local governments throughout the country are wrestling with budget reductions, declining revenues and dismal economic forecasts. As a result, cash-strapped departments are relying more than ever on technology to handle larger workloads. Among these competing priorities, technology oversight is often given short shrift.
Here in Chesterfield County, Va., we’ve adopted a technology investment model with the goal of being much more strategic and intentional with our investments. Using this investment model, project requests from departments have focused more on the needs of the enterprise and on gaining operational efficiencies. Local governments should adopt a model that sets a clear methodology and pushes departments to align their technology requests.
There are several approaches to allocating dollars to technology projects. The “bright shiny object” approach devotes funds to the most glamorous projects or to those that have the best PowerPoint presentation. The “chicken little” approach is used by managers who are adept at convincing others of the dire consequences that will result if funding isn’t provided for their pet project. And the “whack a mole” approach entails waiting until there’s a catastrophe. Chesterfield County has tried each of these approaches to managing our technology investments.
In 2007, we launched a new model designed to remove the guesswork and subjectivity of prior approaches. Our goal was to align the county’s IT investments with its priorities. The model includes a process definition, a scoring method, a taxonomy and a document to describe the structure of the financing.
The single most important aspect of a technology investment model is consistency within each yearly cycle. Each opportunity should be evaluated in the same way, against the same criteria, scored with the same method, and documented with the same system. Leveling the playing field removes subjectivity.
Next, the model should closely align to the organization’s priorities. For example, the overall strategic plan should be tied to the scoring model used to rank and evaluate projects. If your government uses performance-based budgeting, there may be measures you can incorporate into the investment model. Finally, you must have support from senior administration. Senior officials who normally hear a chorus of “give us more money” may be quick to entertain a new process that is designed to ensure that greater value is delivered for the same level of investment.
We’ve been pleased with our technology investment model in Chesterfield County. Project sponsors are thinking about IT initiatives differently, and are aligning them to match the types of projects the county endorses. We’re now evaluating return on investment approaches to determine if a project has met its stated goals for value and performance.
As part of our commitment to data-driven decision-making and continuous improvement, the results from the individual projects are then built back into the model through the scoring criteria and evaluations. Investing in IT projects is not much different than making personal financial investments: You want a positive return, and you want to make investments that are consistent with your objectives. Adopting a technology investment model can ensure precious resources are allocated and governed consistently, with a predictable return for the citizen.
Here’s a sampling of some completed Chesterfield County IT projects that deliver a combination of enterprise scope, citizen-facing services and operational efficiencies.
- CitizenGIS: Award-winning, public-facing, web-based geographic information system
- Mobile Civil Papers: A system that allows deputies of the Sheriff’s Office to retrieve and serve papers in the field
- Chesterfield.gov: A mobile-device-friendly version of the county website
- Citizen Wi-Fi: Free wireless broadband from dozens of locations throughout the county
- PC Virtualization: A desktop virtualization pilot now in production
- Chesterfield Quality System: A program that tracks county goals, cost savings and employee progress
- Community Development Information System: A web-based system for land developers and agents to request rezoning and other services