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Harmonizing Service, Innovation, and Collaboration in Public Sector IT

By Jayson A. Dunn, Director / Chief Technology Officer/ Chief Information Officer, City of Cincinnati – Enterprise Technology Solutions

Jayson A. Dunn, Director / Chief Technology Officer/ Chief Information Officer, City of Cincinnati – Enterprise Technology Solutions

For years public sector I.T. leaders have balanced the challenge of delivering efficient I.T. services while attempting to enhance governmental operations through new and innovative technologies. A common misconception about technology in the public sector is standards are somewhat lower in comparison to private industry. In many respects, the exact opposite is the case. While private sector corporations are primarily concerned with profits and losses, public sector leaders are equally concerned with revenues and expenditures. Purchasing and procurement regulations, civil service guidelines, employee collective bargaining agreements, and other institutional constraints make effectively managing and leveraging technology a challenging task. With limited resources, declining budgets, competing interests for funding, and intense scrutiny on tax payer expenditures the task of implementing game-changing technology in the public sector can be incredibly difficult.

Government IT leaders are saddled with the challenge of declining revenues leading to budget reductions. Budget reductions lead to longer system replacement life cycles. Longer system replacement life cycles lead to antiquated and difficult to support systems. Antiquated and difficult to support systems ultimately lead to less efficient service delivery for the operations depending on them.

"A common misconception about technology in the public sector is standards are somewhat lower in comparison to private industry"

In order to innovate through and around these often cyclical challenges government agencies must establish a leadership structure and operating environment where technology is managed in a manner that allows maximum visibility on all expenditures, contracts, and assets to ensure the intended service and innovation outcomes are achieved.

Collaboration and Governance Enable Strategic Innovation Public sector investments must always have the ultimate goal of improving citizen services. Such improvements are most often realized through business process and workflow enhancements. Far too often, however, the emphasis is focused solely on technology as the solution rather than process improvement. IT leadership must ensure that the business processes evaluation occurs before any investment is made in a technology solution. Oversight and approval from an executive body with the duty of maximizing capital and operating expenditures are also essential before final purchasing decisions are made. Identified technology solutions should meet a predefined scope and scalability criteria with the objective of leveraging them for use by as many departments as possible.

System life cycle planning must also be based on up to date system asset inventory information. This allows an “oldest and most critical first” approach to be taken when replacement decisions are made during difficult budget periods. Unified procurement processes and transparent contract management also allow for broader negotiations with vendors, controlled purchasing, and volume pricing on licenses and equipment.

By focusing on business process reviews before technology investments are made, ensuring executive oversight exists for all purchases and procurements, keeping up to date and accurate asset inventory information, and unifying as many contracts and agreements as possible public sector agencies can sustain day-to-day operations while preserving resources for newer cutting edge technology solutions.

In 2016 Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black commissioned a comprehensive end-to-end review of his city’s I.T. operations. Utilizing the city’s Office of Performance and Data Analytics, a 9-week Innovation Lab event was conducted involving all departments and I.T. employees in the city. The robust process led to a deep dive into the city’s technology assets, including contracts, purchase agreements, software licenses, applications, infrastructure systems, workstations, laptops, printer, mobile devices, end users, and technical support staff resources. The resulting report and analysis of the city’s “As-Is” technology environment created the baseline needed to develop a new and improved “To-Be” technology service delivery model with measurable key performance areas and indicators.

An I.T. Standardization and Optimization Administrative Regulation was enacted in Cincinnati to legislate the needed changes. The city’s I.T. Governance Board was restructured Executive I.T. Leadership Committee was empowered to lead I.T. policy initiatives and capital investment decisions throughout the city. The city’s C-Level leaders were identified as the Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Data Officer, Chief GIS Officer, Chief Procurement Officer, and Chief Performance Officer. The positions, along with an Assistant City Manager and representatives from the Law and Budget office sit on the committee and function as the Supreme Court for all technology decisions.

A Technology Collaboration Subcommittee comprised of I.T. managers and staff members from the various city departments meets regularly to address in-depth technical issues and advises the Leadership committee as needed.

Single citywide I.T. service delivery and asset management systems were implemented citywide to ensure all assets are identified and all service requests, purchase requests, and projects are managed in a single location. Even though most city departments retained management of their support staffs and line of business systems, tremendous improvements in service were made through the oversight of the new I.T. leadership structure. Transparency was immediately created with the usage of a single service management system allowing all I.T. metrics to be universally monitored. Capital and operating expenditures are more thoroughly evaluated and city leadership has an executive body ensuring that the right balance exists between operational service delivery and innovation.

With a state-of-the-art open data portal (insights.cincinnati-oh.gov) allowing citizens real time access to the city’s most critical data, an award-winning regional GIS infrastructure simplifying citizen service requests and permitting processes, and cutting-edge technology in our public safety, public service, and utility departments, the City of Cincinnati is one of the most efficient, effective, and technologically equipped SMART digital cities in America. Despite the ongoing and cyclical challenges of managing technology in the public sector we have achieved success through a collaborative I.T. governance and leadership structure. Operations that are not effectively measured cannot be effectively managed, and assets that cannot be accounted for will become eventual liabilities. In order stay on the leading edge public sector technology leaders must dig into the details of their operating environments and develop a technology model that addresses the most critical business needs and utilizes innovation to improve services to citizens. At the end of the day, that is what we are here for.