Stuck in the Middle

Stuck in the Middle

by / July 8, 2008

By now, we've all heard plenty about the retirement wave that's poised to hit state and local government. It's a serious issue that has public officials nationwide pondering knowledge transfer and employee retention and recruitment.

Until the retirement wave hits, however, state and local CIOs are coping with a different problem: how to manage the technology needs of a generationally polarized work force.
It's an oversimplification, of course, because there are plenty of tech-savvy workers of all ages. But the challenge boils down to this:

Young, newly hired workers expect to use technology to get their jobs done. They're comfortable with mobile devices and applications. They're more likely to be paperless. They have no qualms about conducting transactions electronically.

Workers nearing retirement are at the other end of the spectrum. They know their jobs inside and out, having amassed huge amounts of knowledge about the arcane processes of government. But some of these employees struggle with process and application changes that come with major technology initiatives.

Government CIOs find themselves caught in the middle. Younger workers are chafing at the lack of what they consider fundamental IT tools - and they're likely finding and using their own applications if their employers won't provide them (triggering all manner of security and support headaches). Older workers may not want to move so fast - and probably have valuable institutional knowledge that shouldn't be trampled in the race toward transformation.

So how do you move forward? Perhaps by learning more about how your clients - the agencies and departments in your jurisdiction - actually work. I recently spoke with CIOs in several Midwestern cities who created teams of business relationship managers charged with finding out how city departments really function before proposing IT improvements. These staff members spend time painting streets, repairing traffic lights and performing other everyday tasks before attempting to design systems that support city crews.

Those who've tried the technique say it produces better solutions and strengthens confidence in IT departments. One CIO said he has two business relationship managers on staff, but he could use 10 if he could afford to hire them. 

For a discipline that struggles with customer service and return on investment, this approach seems both practical and cost effective. Indeed, an up-close look at departments' staff and how they function in the real world might lead to more satisfaction among tech-savvy employees - whether they're Millennials or baby boomers - and fewer help desk "frequent fliers" among the rest.