As citizens and professionals, technology plays a significant role in everything we do. It is because technology is such an integral part of our lives that we expect it to be commonplace in all our functions. For those who work in public service, we’ve come to understand that technology isn’t an afterthought anymore. For governments leading the development and delivery of government services, we have made (and are still making) a critical paradigm shift. It is not about the technology (i.e. the applications and infrastructure) it is about aligning with the business of government and 2) using our own data to inform operations and strategy.
"With so many governments pushing the envelope, there is a real importance in learning from each other"
In the past, we have been focused on system deployment and driving the implementation of technology. We are comfortable with this approach and we have mastered it. We have paid less attention to the business need to improve service, and ensuring what is being deployed actually answers and addresses the problem. In some cases we have become experts at automating inefficient processes by building unconnected systems. We are technologists and historically, it has been our role to find or build good technological systems.
But governments that find themselves leading the pack know that this isn’t the key to success. The shift isn’t easy but it is paramount to make change. So government technology professionals that are seeing positive results are now taking on different perspectives:
• Taking a leap from a singular focus on technology to helping colleagues in the departments understand how IT helps achieve the mission, deliver more effective and efficient services, and gets them closer to their goals. When talking with business leaders, it is not about the systems, applications, or infrastructure. It is about the functions, processes, and their ideal state of operation.
• Becoming data management experts and advocates so that colleagues from departments can see the wealth of data available to them and better understand the power of making decisions using this information. Many have said that a government’s greatest wealth is the voluminous data assets when in reality, governments are still struggling to access and make sense of their own data stored and managed in legacy systems. Using data to inform decision and policy making in a meaningful way requires increased attention to data principles and a focus on data governance.
But making this paradigm shift requires attention to many areas, most simultaneously:
• Ensuring alignment of IT with the businesses units/departments
• Understanding of all the underlying processes not just the technology
• Balancing future and strategic approaches while also maintaining legacy systems
• Becoming educated on emerging trends like the Internet of Things and how it will impact the city and understanding IT’s role in this transition.
• Creating mechanisms for increased transparency and access to data
• Being vigilant to security even with limited resources
As daunting as this may sound, this is an exciting time to be part of technology and city government. With so many governments pushing the envelope, there is a real importance in learning from each other. At the City of Rochester, we started to build the connection with our business units (departments) several years ago, by building a Relationship Management Organization within the Information Technology Department. This was done with the focus of aligning all of our government services throughout the city. This organization works to understand the strategy of the business to support the city’s long term vision. We also created an enterprise process and systems team to develop and document the current and future state of our client’s processes.
This is a critical first step to take before any enterprise solutions are considered.
One of our underlying principles that govern the City of Rochester’s IT approach is that we are committed to finding efficiencies as we deploy technology. We know we can no longer afford to simply throw technology at a problem for resolution. This process work allows us to see the cross-functional connection between services offered by the City. We bring the business units/ departments together so they can see the flow of activity outside of their own area. They get to fully understand the end to end process which they typically don’t ever do. Most business units/ department usually only see one part of the process.
But process review and reengineering is not always the fastest approach. In fact, it can be time consuming and arduous. But if a government is serious about finding efficiencies and improving service delivery, then it is not a nice-to-do. It is a must do. I have talked to many government organizations where process improvement work was completed after the fact. This is not optimal because once a solution is in place, this can make it difficult or impossible to realign technology.
At the City of Rochester, we have begun the initial stages to build an Enterprise Architecture (EA) showing services for the enterprise. The EA is used at the inception of a project to work with a business to validate and educate on the interconnected relationships among services. We used this approach in the recent deployment of a new Records Request/FOIL solution and realized there were equal needs to deliver a solution that answered our call for transparency while still collecting and managing FOIL requests. Essentially, it became clear that it was a subset of larger content management program. More specifically we were able to identify that the longer term vision is to allow content to be self-served to the public and a new solution must provide this type of transparency. We developed a content management taxonomy that is built on city services rather than an individual department structure. As the business units reviewed the taxonomy, it helped create a deeper understanding of our government services throughout the city and its impact on the Community. Using the EA thinking to define and plan this FOIL solution, we brought many businesses units together so that they could understand the whole process flow and how what they do impacts other units.
Long gone are the days of IT in the back room where they only respond to requests. Governments that are seeing the most success have their IT folks at the forefront of most discussions. Our world, our technology, our data are all rapidly changing and ever growing.
The lines between internal IT operations and technology in the community are blurring and if we don’t get in front and drive alignment, I believe we will continue to find temporary solutions that will make our environment more complex and ultimately, inefficient.
While most government IT leaders don’t naturally (or comfortably) assume the spotlight, their role as change agent is slowly emerging and it is not from the server room.