Editor’s Note: The Digital Communities Special Report, which appears twice a year in Government Technology magazine, offers in-depth coverage for local government leaders and technology professionals. It is part of the Digital Communities program, a network of public- and private-sector IT professionals working to improve local governments’ delivery of public service through the use of technology. The program — a partnership between Government Technology and e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government — consists of task forces that meet online and in person to exchange information on important issues facing local government leaders and technologists.
The concept of shared services has been around since the era of mainframe computers. Since then, the concept has remained firmly entrenched at some levels of government. At the federal level, shared IT services is a key strategy among many agencies. States have also made shared services a priority, ranking it as their first or second top IT priority, according to the Center for Digital Government (CDG). But when it comes to cities and counties, the strategy ranks low or not at all in recent surveys from the CDG. “While there are some innovative examples of shared services happening in some of the more progressive cities and counties, when you look at the numbers nationally, there are thousands of cities, counties and towns that are doing nothing,” said Roy Mathew, a partner with Deloitte Consulting.
That’s a problem because shared services helps local governments in two important ways: First, it reduces the cost burden of common information technologies, from infrastructure, such as networks and servers, to applications, such as email, geospatial information, content management and enterprise resource planning software programs; second, it provides smaller governments a way to gain access to new advances in technology that can help cities and counties do the same thing faster, better and cheaper. “Given how technology evolves, local governments are always looking for ways to improve efficiency,” said Mathew.
Whether it’s cloud computing, mobile applications, open data platforms or social media, technology has much to offer cash-strapped cities and counties. The concept of sharing can extend beyond infrastructure and core applications to include the sharing of IT talent. Organizations are beginning to tap into options like chief information security officer (CISO)-as-a-service and fractional CIOs to gain critical IT management skills on demand. Part one of this series examines current practices of shared IT services at the local level and the challenges that can impede their growth.