Integration of technology in the public sector

Technology in the public sector arguably affects all citizens who depend on government services. CIOs can play an important role in integrating processes, tools and strategies within the agency.

As technology permeates all areas of the business, it is increasingly difficult for leaders to draw a line between business strategy and the technology that enables it. CIOs can serve as the necessary connective tissue: identify, control, and use technology in ways that transform business processes.

This role of integration director poses particular challenges in large public sector agencies, where technology affects not only every department and government function, but arguably every business and every citizen. These agencies often have dozens of technical assets to support a disparate range of business processes, from messaging platforms to data centers to grant systems. Meanwhile, growing expectations for citizen engagement and digital government services are putting integration architectures in the spotlight. In this environment, CIOs have a unique perspective to drive integration from an enterprise-wide perspective.

But public sector CIOs also face a series of challenges when taking on this role of integrator. They face a growing maze of laws and regulations that both dictate the government structures in which they operate and establish data and privacy practices that they must follow. In addition, some CIOs who “grew up” in the public sector may find themselves in uncharted territory, striving to meet expectations of integration and visibility in the company that were not traditionally part of the profession.

The organizational and cultural changes that are essential to becoming a more integrated government present additional obstacles. Previously, separate departments often had carte blanche to source any IT asset they wanted. The concept of resource sharing is often a challenge for government groups, both organizationally and legally, and likely requires strong leadership and meaningful change management to be recast.

Despite these obstacles, the integration is is happening now, with various states and federal agencies making incremental progress. For example, the state of Minnesota brings together the state’s IT assets, programs, and people under one roof to create a unified view of its citizens. Legislation has further boosted integration: at the federal level, CIOs are largely responsible and accountable for the IT budget due to the Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act 1996, which outlines the functions of the position of Federal CIO. States such as Tennessee and Washington are also passing legislation to consolidate departments, with the goal of better integrating business processes, data, and technology.

In the pursuit of integration, public sector CIOs must marry traditional, day-to-day management of IT operations with the strategic goal of connecting technology, businesses, organizations and data to meet the anticipated needs of government agencies and of the citizens they serve. They also need to balance strong executive leadership with diplomacy, and partner with business and HR leaders. Considerations of organization and modernization occupy an important place; CIOs need to consider what the new reporting structures will look like, how these redesigned structures will affect government functions, and who will have the final say on procurement matters.

To further strengthen their integration efforts, public sector CIOs can take the following actions:

Ffind a champion. Some agencies, and even some states, are more prepared than others for collaboration and integration. Consider starting your efforts with agencies or departments that are volunteer participants and share a common component or line of business.

Determine infrastructure and organizational readiness. Integration requires technology assets and management skills up to the task. Create measurable criteria to assess readiness and advocate for maintaining, merging, or phasing out existing applications. Create new incentives and metrics to help teams work together.

Align your IT efforts with those of the business. Cabinet secretaries and others already have clear priorities in place. Make sure you understand these priorities, pursue initiatives that align with them, and work together to build real momentum.

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Whatever the obstacles, the time has come for CIOs in the public sector to take on this new role of driving integration. Simply staying the course, or just maintaining an operational focus, will likely increase the risk of persistent inefficiency and mistrust among stakeholders. Mainstreaming can disrupt government as usual in the short term, but its positive long-term benefits for citizens, stakeholders and the agencies themselves are too great to ignore.

-through Kristin russell, Director, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and Paul Krein, Specialist Leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP

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