Dec 29 2017

When Does It Make Sense to Outsource IT — and How?

IT leaders should start with these strategies when looking at outside sources to help shoulder the IT burden.

When it comes to maintaining in-house government IT operations, nothing can replace the value and utility of having your own IT staff.

In-house staff helps to grow institutional knowledge, on-site networking relationships, commitment and the understanding of mission for the enterprise and all its parts.

Yet, despite all the advantages, many local governments struggle to find and retain qualified IT candidates. A good IT professional can earn 30 percent more in the private sector, and there are limits to selling the benefits of quality-of-life factors in local government. Also, many jurisdictions have been forced to reduce employee benefits, something that was once a chief selling point for government work.

So, outsourcing can become a necessity for governments and, when the time comes, there are several strategies IT leaders can employ to successfully augment or completely take over in-house operations to keep costs down and ensure the best possible results.

IT leaders should be forewarned that there will always be the need for some amount of in-house IT staff. Even if one could completely outsource IT, there is always the need to have a highly qualified person on staff to manage the contract, which includes day-to-day operations.

Start the Outsourcing Process by Asking Questions

Planning for IT staff augmentation begins with an IT assessment. At the Public Technology Institute (PTI), we do this by asking a series of questions:

  • How well is the network maintained?
  • How current is the equipment and software?
  • How secure is the IT infrastructure?
  • How satisfied are public safety officials?
  • How are broadband needs being met? This includes wired and wireless networks as well as present and future needs.
  • How qualified are the IT staff? Are there any gaps?

4 Strategies to Ease the Government IT Burden

There are many solid strategies for moving ahead by looking at what might be outsourced to lessen the burdens on current staff, which include:

  1. GIS — Many local governments find it advantageous to have geographic information systems operated by a larger jurisdiction in the area. Adding a few data sets from one jurisdiction to another is not that difficult and the cost savings could be substantial. Cloud-based GIS should also be considered.
  2. Email — Consider having email hosted in the cloud. It may cost more in the long-run, but it can prove to be more reliable and feature-rich than what may be currently maintained on premise. Chances are it may be more secure, too.
  3. Cloud-based ERP — Similar to externally hosted email systems, enterprise resource planning cloud-based solutions can reduce on-site maintenance as well as staff costs while increasing reliability and security, especially if older systems are being maintained.
  4. Support — Consider outsourcing Tier 1 and 2 help desk support.

Tap Creative Government IT Staffing Options

Finally, there are many good staffing options worth exploring. Here are just a few:

  1. Virtual CIO — Given today’s technology, remote diagnostics and help desk support can come from another city or state. There are very good companies that provide virtual CIO services.
  2. Retirees — Often overlooked are retirees from the IT environment who more likely than not want to stay active but on a limited time basis. Consider hiring a few to fill in the gaps.
  3. Shared CIO — Consider sharing a CIO with other jurisdictions in the area.
  4. Community college cooperative education programs — Many schools offer students professional development opportunities as part of their curriculum. This has the potential to be a win-win for all parties.
  5. Tech exec on loan — There may be expertise in the close-by private sector where you might be able to secure or “borrow” someone for a defined (but limited) period of time.

Going forward, we need more qualified professionals who remain current on contemporary trends.

Today’s systems are changing at a far greater pace, as are the threats to our digital infrastructure. Local governments are at great risk if they fail to keep up. To help shoulder the burden, small and underfunded localities can join with larger ones to obtain the necessary IT support they require to keep up in the ever-changing world of government IT.

This article is derived from Dr. Shark’s upcoming book “Ten Trends: What Every Public Manager Needs to Understand” to be released January 2018.

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