Government agencies face serious challenges in deploying IT to accomplish their missions. Often, they have to deal with increasing demands from citizens even as their budgets stay level or, in some cases, shrink.
In a 2016 study, for instance, Accenture found that 85 percent of people expect government’s digital services to match or exceed the quality of what commercial entities offer. And because they do not operate on a for-profit model, it can be difficult for government agencies to justify and win approval for new IT spending.
Many government agencies spend the vast majority of their IT funds on operations and maintenance of legacy systems, with little left over for innovation. While a private sector organization can build a business case for making large investments in new infrastructure, government agencies typically don’t produce additional revenue even when they provide extraordinary service. Instead, they usually must make the case that an investment will ultimately save taxpayers money — and do so quickly enough to satisfy voters and politicians.
IT modernization doesn’t mean merely upgrading infrastructure so that servers are more powerful and network pipes are more robust. The goals behind IT modernization efforts vary from agency to agency, but typically, these efforts are undertaken with the aim of substantially changing the way in which IT shops structure themselves and deliver services.
In a 2016 survey, IDG found that 74 percent of organizations rated business transformation as either a “critical” or “very important” goal of their IT modernization plans. Seventy-three percent said that increasing business agility was a critical or very important goal, 65 percent said that enabling innovation was a major goal and 63 percent cited cost reductions. The lowest ranked goal for organizations pursuing IT modernization strategies was the protection of legacy investments, which was cited by only 59 percent of respondents.
Other common goals motivating government agencies to pursue IT modernization strategies include future proofing, reducing demands on internal IT staff and improving security. Several initiatives have improved the services government agencies can offer, as well as their ability to fulfill their missions:
The Tech State and Local Governments Can Use to Modernize
Mobility: Every year, mobility becomes more central to the way employees work. Many government employees starting their careers today have been using smartphones since before they were teenagers, and even midcareer professionals have become dependent on mobile devices and apps to be productive. To meet users’ needs and best serve citizens and residents, government agencies must adopt mobile solutions that both make data more accessible and protect sensitive and regulated information. Depending on current investments, an IT modernization effort may require a government agency to revise its device strategy, adopt new enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions, invest in wireless networking upgrades or develop new internal or public-facing mobile apps.
Cloud computing and shared services: The capabilities of the public cloud are well suited for solving many of the challenges government agencies face when it comes to IT modernization. Public cloud providers allow organizations to rapidly scale up resources and then pull them back again if they are no longer needed.
Further, the subscription-style pricing model of paying for cloud services as an operational expense can help agencies overcome hurdles related to procurement. However, the public cloud won’t be a fit for every use case, and agencies must exercise caution to ensure that they can maintain the necessary level of control and availability of their data and applications. In some instances, regulations will prevent agencies from placing data in the public cloud, in which case private clouds may be a good fit.
Data center optimization and improving operational efficiency: Up-to-date storage, networking and computing infrastructure is a necessary part of any IT modernization effort, especially for agencies that plan to continue running workloads on-premises.
Security: Cybersecurity threats continue to evolve. From ransomware that locks up systems to data exfiltration malware designed to leak sensitive information, cyberattacks have the potential to bring an agency to its knees. Robust security solutions should be implemented to provide agencies with multiple layers of defense. Some of this security will come in the form of tools such as next-generation firewalls, email security tools and endpoint security solutions that analyze the behavior of programs to determine whether they are malicious. But end-user activity is also a major risk factor for agencies; training programs and robust access and identity management policies and tools are essential.
Data analytics: Data is growing at a massive pace. Already, government agencies are generating oceans of information via mobile devices and applications. But without analytics tools to turn this raw data into actionable insights, this information cannot help agencies achieve their full potential.
Internet of Things: The amount of data being generated today is a proverbial drop in the bucket compared with what will be produced in the coming years as Internet of Things projects are adopted in large numbers. The dropping price of sensors and the increased capacity of data analytics tools will give rise to an untold number of use cases, and it is impossible for anyone to predict IoT’s impact on government agencies. However, IoT has potential applications in human health, transportation, agriculture, policing and military uses and other areas.
State and Local Governments Face Specific IT Challenges
State and local governments aren’t modernizing IT with the mere goal of supporting in-office workers. The unique nature of government agencies creates a number of specialized challenges, including:
Community engagement: By incorporating public input and civic engagement into state and local government initiatives, agencies gain a full view of perspectives in their communities, helping to improve decision-making. Increasingly, community members expect to be able to provide this feedback in a digital format, rather than attending in-person meetings.
Smart city initiatives: Programs that use data from cameras and sensors to improve services are helping cities and states to streamline traffic flows, improve motor vehicle safety and help drivers find open parking spots. One popular early use case is IP-enabled streetlights. Some cities even program their downtown streetlights to brighten when bars close at night, encouraging people to clear from the streets.
Connected citizen services: By creating digital connections between citizens and their town hall or state house, government agencies can improve service delivery and make people feel that government is responsive to their concerns. This can be as simple as a mobile app that allows citizens to engage in basic interactions, such as reporting potholes, paying water bills or finding state parks on a map.
To learn how state and local agencies can address their IT modernization challenges, read the CDW white paper “How IT Modernization Improves Government.”