Editor’s Note: Timothy Durniak, chief technology officer for public sector of IBM’s Systems and Technology Group, has been with the company for 29 years.

At its core, government’s purpose is to serve its citizens. A constantly changing world complicates this simple idea with increasing global interconnectivity, cultural and societal revolutions, and technological advancements. To keep up, governments must evolve the way they do business if they are to meet the needs of those they serve. But without similarly dynamic technology underlying its services, government will not be able to adapt quickly or economically.

Last month, the U.S. Department of the Interior released an IT Transformation Strategic Plan that outlines how the government intends to leverage technology to save up to $500 million by 2020. Through an IT transformation, the Department of Interior expects to deliver better service at less cost by greatly reducing the number of data centers and servers, switching to a single e-mail system, and transitioning to the cloud with cloud-based electronic forms and records, as well as content management.

Interior’s plan addresses the fact that as demand for computing capacity has increased, the government’s capacity to respond hasn’t. Lack of resources can force reactive IT solutions that maintain current systems, rather than drive innovation for improved services. But now more than ever, governments must find ways to do more with less. Governments can thrive, despite the economy, if they shift to smarter computing systems designed and optimized to handle the never-ending churn of technological and societal change.

The Department of Interior has outlined a path toward smarter computing that can better meet demands and enable innovation for large-scale change, all at a cost-savings. Its plan and other successful government initiatives across the nation reflect three essential characteristics:

1. Designed for Big Data

Whether distributing Medicare benefits or reacting to a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina, agencies cannot make quick and smart decisions without the most relevant and accurate information. Government must collect, store, manage and secure all available data — in all forms — to build a holistic, integrated vision across institutions and sectors. By analyzing and harnessing information from all aspects of society, government can better collaborate internally and with public and private partners to improve existing services and pioneer new initiatives that improve the way we live.

The California Alameda County Social Services Agency in the U.S., for example, implemented an optimized IT system to create a single view of its citizen clients and applied analytics to its benefits payment operations. The agency now saves almost $25 million annually by reducing benefit overpayments.

2. Tuned to the Task

Not all government tasks are the same; the IT that supports them shouldn’t be either. The transactional needs of a subway fare system are different than the in-depth analytics of crime prediction. Government IT must support specific work, but also be flexible enough to respond to changing needs, such as normal versus peak demand. This requires aligning each component of a computing system so it can benefit from unique features.

Norfolk, Va. had power-hungry data storage facilities that were rapidly running out of space. By integrating its storage infrastructure on a single, optimized system, the city nearly doubled its storage performance and cut power consumption in half.

3. Managed in the Cloud

With the exponential growth of digital data across government, cloud computing is essential to making it useful. Cloud provides better access to and analysis of all information and drives efficiency with the freedom to use service providers or perform work internally, or both, depending on the situation. Either way, government can have real-time, anywhere access to information and services, making collaboration and sharing easier for new and improved services.

For example, North Carolina State University adopted cloud technology to address unanticipated demand for its computing resources. Through the cloud, they were able to extend their resources throughout the state to other educational institutions, increasing the average number of students served per license by 150 percent without incurring additional expenses.

Now is the time for governments to get smarter about IT. To succeed during times of financial austerity, governments must transition to optimized systems that leverage big data, tune to specific tasks, and provide quick and easy access through the cloud. With these characteristics, governments can work in concert with each other and the broader world to meet the growing demands of those they serve.

Timothy Durniak  | 

Timothy Durniak, chief technology officer for public sector of IBM’s Systems and Technology Group, has been with the company for 29 years.