February 11, 2011 By Dan Lohrmann
How do your technology services compare with others? Have you compared your service offerings, rates and customer satisfaction with similar size organizations in the public and private sectors? Should you be offering more for less? Elected leaders, CxOs and business managers worldwide constantly want answers to these questions. But benchmarking government technology services is easier said than done.
For one thing, every organization’s unique — with a different culture, local politics, history, budget, expectations and governance. Two, governments’ policies and requirements differ from the private sector’s — with Freedom of Information Act laws, diverse priorities from elected leaders, pay/benefit/cost-of-living disparities nationwide, and varying perspectives on outsourcing. Three, government service offerings must equally serve citizens and not “cherry pick” the most profitable services or segments of society. While value-for-money efficiency can — and should — be measured in government operations, the private sector differs.
This makes us realize that benchmarking isn’t an exact science. Developing actionable measures requires excellent methodology, a large database of comparable entities, good judgment and lots of experience. During one benchmarking effort a few years ago, one person said, “If this is apples to apples, one is a Golden Delicious and the other is a Granny Smith.”
Nevertheless, comparing costs and service levels is a pragmatic strategy that’s an essential element of effective leadership. Most government technology managers that I’ve met believe that their teams are providing good value for the money spent given their set of circumstances. Still, they recognize the need for external validation and want to benchmark. Managers who resist benchmarking are sometimes pressured by new business leaders to bring in the “experts from out of town” to determine if changes can save dollars or offer better services.
Michigan recently completed a benchmarking effort of technology infrastructure services. It was a bumpy multimonth process — and we almost drove off the road a few times. The journey was painful, but worth it. I’d like to share several things we learned and offer a few (vendor-agnostic) tips to help in your benchmarking.
Dan Lohrmann is Michigan’s CTO and was the state’s first chief information security officer. He has 25 years of worldwide security experience, and has won numerous awards for his leadership in the information security field.
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