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7 Essential IT Infrastructure Strategies that Customers Need Now

As we begin 2015, what do your customers really need from you? What is your government technology infrastructure plan of action for the coming year? Here are seven must-have strategies for enterprises to enable long-lasting innovation.

credit: Katherine Lohrmann

More than fifty years ago, U.S. government leaders recognized a huge infrastructure need for our nation to succeed both economically and militarily. In order for goods and services to quickly move around our country, something big needed to be done to our transportation networks.

After the best and brightest came together to construct a new national strategy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Highways Act of 1956 to implement a massive road-building project. President Eisenhower vision turned into a reality that now offers over 47,700 miles of roadway in our nationwide interstate network.

Today, our opportunities to improve are just as great in our new 21st century information society; however, our current needs are different. Technology upgrades are essential to enable the online services that require an upgraded electronic transport infrastructure that is both safe and fast. In order to take full advantage of the explosive growth in data as well as new service opportunities, there is a desperate need for infrastructure action at federal, state and local levels of government.

The trouble is, progress is not as easy as just buying new technology. No doubt, new innovative software, hardware, networks, tools, databases, monitoring equipment and more are available for purchase to help the public and private sectors. But legacy systems often slow down progress dramatically.

Industry experts have long recognized that the right mix of people, process and technology is needed to integrate new solutions. What’s also required is a sense of urgency by government leadership on these infrastructure projects across the nation.

Background on This Essential 7 List

So what infrastructure upgrades should be on everyone’s 2015 roadmap? As background, plenty of infrastructure priorities were offered in 2014 from the National Governor’s Association (NGA) to National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) to the National Association of Counties (NACo).

NASCIO’s top ten CIO priority list is a great place to start – along with the award-winning NASCIO projects. (Top tip:  Take the time to read through the innovative NASCIO award winners and finalists from the past three years to help with relevant project details.)

There are also excellent lists from Gartner, Forrester and Deloitte that offer great direction as well as resources, aids and potential building blocks for conceptual frameworks in coordinating or integrating solutions or projects. 

But before we go to the list, here’s a warning. These labels aren’t new and the technology concepts are not difficult. In fact, the broad categories described can become a hindrance to action, in my view.

The reason? Management may be tempted to think they’ve “been there, done that and got the T-shirt” regarding infrastructure topics, rather than see the need for evolutionary improvements.

All of these technology areas are in vastly different places in 2015 than they were even a few years back. In fact, it is not uncommon to be on version 2.0 or 3.0 regarding many of these topics. Just as many users of the original iPhone have annually upgraded to a new device with numerous additional features, most of these infrastructure strategies require a fresh look and a strategy refresh approximately every two years.

In each of these seven essential technology areas, I have listed one or two award-winning government examples that can be used to kick-start your efforts. There are also numerous vendor case studies from around the country that can offer helpful solutions, and I’ve listed a few of those examples.

1)      Cloud strategy – Whether using a public cloud, private cloud or a hybrid mix, every government needs a workable cloud strategy that can transform service delivery.

As the Federal government’s points out, “There are many types of cloud computing services and each provides unique benefits.  As you consider moving to the cloud, learn how agencies are already benefiting from cloud computing and how your agency can use cloud services to reap similar benefits….”

Cisco, Google and Microsoft Cloud for government programs are all worth considering. Also, take a look at the FedRAMP program for help with cloud providers.

2)      Mobile-first strategy – More and more governments have declared “mobile-first” strategies. Two leading approaches come from Utah and Michigan. You may also include your approach to BYOD in this category.

Delaware has also been a leader in mobility and BYOD.

Utah’s mobile program is truly the top in the nation, in my view. Why?

“Our mobile strategy is reaching new population groups that haven’t interacted with government before. That’s why total visits to the state’s websites have grown substantially in the last couple of years,” said Dave Fletcher, the state’s chief technology officer. The state’s website received 1.63 million unique visitors in June -- 26 percent of which came from mobile devices.

3)      (Big) Data analytics strategy – More and more governments are using big data analytics strategies to reduce fraud, build enterprise-wide data warehouses and much more.  The Tech America Foundation published this report on Big Data.

According to this Pew Trust article, “Indiana began a big crackdown on identity crooks this year and the results are startling: The state has saved Hoosier taxpayers $85 million so far by not paying out bogus tax refunds.”

Bottom line, data analytics, or big data projects are a must for governments moving forward, and can bring big benefits.

4)      Network / Datacenter architecture redesign strategy – After the aggressive virtualization of servers and networks in datacenters in governments over the past few years, many networks now requires redesigns. Cisco and VMWare offer case studies and tutorials to help.

Here’s some helpful metrics from the VMWare:

-          Virtualization provides government organizations with an evolutionary path to cloud computing that preserves existing IT investments, security and control….

-          Reduce data center and capital costs by as much as 60 percent.

-          Cut the operating expenses around your end-user computing environment by up to 50 percent.

-          Reduce time spent on routine administrative tasks by about a third.

-          Reduce power, cooling and real estate needs to cut energy costs by up to 80 percent.

5)    Identity & Access Management (IAM) strategy – For more than a decade, enterprises having been seeking the “holy grail” of single sign-on for end user customers. Sorry, but it’s not happening. In fact, the number of passwords and access methodologies is increasing in many organizations as social media and disparate system use grows dramatically.

Still, federated identity management can dramatically improve service delivery and help governments offer better customer service. From a security and provisioning perspective IAM is a must-do to reduce password and provisioning challenges.

Deloitte has delivered several excellent solutions using IBM technology, and there are numerous other solutions that work well.  NASCIO offers a good description of the benefits here.

6)      Broadband / wireless connectivity strategy – Faster Internet speeds. More WiFi. Better reliability. These technology challenges continue to evolve as things speed up, so governments are in the never-ending cycle of trying to keep up. Therefore, governments need a strategy to constantly assess and adjust online speeds and service for internal government customers and citizens.

The State of Vermont’s Strategic IT Plan includes many components, including upgrades to statewide connectivity. From laying fiber to working with Google on high-speed options, what’s your plan?

7)      Disaster recovery  (DR) / business continuity planning (BCP) / incident management strategies -  And what if something goes wrong? Are you ready? From breaches to fires, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, strategic plans and specific projects for critical infrastructure protection are now a must. These topics are often also being split into different groupings in most states, but make sure these strategies align.

The DR & BCP topics are not new. NASCIO published this IT Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Toolkit in 2007, but most of the items in the checklist still apply. Still, more must be done to prepare for the inevitable.

FEMA has highlighted the Michigan Cyber Disruption Response Strategy as a best-practice in governments working with the private sector on cyberattacks.

The State of Maryland also published this action plan on disaster recovery after Hurricane Sandy, which was approved by HUD in 2013.

Why Infrastructure Urgency?

I suspect that readers have seen the items on this list before. Nevertheless, is your government making progress on turning your strategies into projects with deliverables that matter? Are funding and resources being applied to these priorities? Are Request for Proposals (RFPs) being issued? Is staff being held accountable to deliver? Are you measuring progress?

Government technology leaders have an opportunity to leverage the work of other public and private organizations to leap-frog the pack and make meaningful progress. And yet, a lack of action will certainly hamper innovation efforts as new applications come on line that rely on state-of-the-art infrastructure. Sadly, many government staff now have more up-to-date technology at home than at work.

Here’s a 4-minute helpful video from IBM in Asia on why infrastructure matters – because business outcomes matter.

Final Thoughts:

I suspect that some readers are wondering why this list didn’t address the Internet of Things (IoT), wearables, social computing or possibly even the rise of robots. No doubt, I could have included those important topics. More innovative technologies will certainly be hot topics in 2015 and beyond.

Still, the 7 infrastructure items discussed are bread and butter items. CIOs, CTOs, CISOs and other CxOs need to deliver in these areas first – in my view.

Sure, cybersecurity and applications are also in the top 10, but this blog focused on infrastructure must haves – and most enterprises already recognize their need for security improvements. And yet, infrastructure improvements, application development and cybersecurity must work together.   

I urge government technology leaders to take action in delivering meaningful infrastructure improvements this year.

You can think of this as your professional resolution to enable innovation over the next decade and beyond by making digital infrastructure investments now.

As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: “I see… an America where a mighty network of highways spreads across our country."
Can we say the same today for your government's digital highways?


Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.