The pandemic and its sweeping effects took governments by surprise. But when the next crisis hits, there will be no excuse to be unprepared. Here’s the groundwork information technology leaders should put in place now.
No one could have predicted the impact of a pandemic on people, the economy, and governments of all sizes. The people impact is well-documented with COVID-19 infection numbers and worst of all, deaths being reported daily. Time will reveal the impact of shelter in place and social distancing practices on our mental and physical health. Economic impacts are also well documented as unemployment reached record highs in the shortest amount of time in our history. Time will also tell how the structural underpinnings of the economy are affected and changed forever. As for governments, the impacts of COVID-19 happened quickly but are also developing over time. The initial impacts of moving quickly to remote work, stressing government services, and exposing technology deficiencies will soon manifest into long-term structural budget issues that will not fade away anytime soon. Governments that need to modernize technology infrastructure and applications to be ready for the next pandemic will require a significant investment of public dollars. Will governments be ready to invest as their resources tighten and competition for dollars becomes even more fierce?
Some people scoff at governments for being slow to move or having archaic fiscal policies. But these perceptions could not be further from the truth. Governments work diligently to ensure that their finances are carefully managed by having open, transparent budgeting processes that in many cases involve their constituents. They plan for months to prepare an annual or multi-year budget that meets the needs of their strategic plans and includes necessary programs for their people. No budget could have foretold what has happened under the pandemic. Competition for financial resources is nothing new but as governments emerge from COVID-19, that competition will ramp up tremendously. Technology has also taken on an enhanced role due to the pandemic requiring that governments modernize their technical capabilities in a hurry. We believe that governments were given somewhat of a “pass” for their technology struggles during this pandemic because it all happened so quickly. Emerging from COVID-19 will take innovation backed by strong investments. If or when this all happens again, governments will not get the same “pass.” The people will rightly ask why government didn't learn from COVID-19 and come into the next crisis better prepared?
Government budgets are being somewhat bolstered by the federal stimulus funds but those will not last forever. The modernization of technical infrastructure and applications must be made a priority if governments ever hope to deal with their technical debt. Technical debt is rampant throughout governments where their legacy technologies have been milked of every bit of their functionality over many years only to be a financial burden as they age. Legacy technologies are maintained, upgraded, and changed over time but eventually they need to be replaced.
Government’s next normal must include a significant investment in technical modernization and must compete favorably against other priorities as future budgets are set. Inclusive to this investment is picking the right partners with the right solutions. The old master technology plans have been upended by the pandemic resulting in major priority shifts. Our Next Normal Resource Guide states that the first 90 days must include a thorough review of all previous projects and contracts to ensure that the new priorities are managed successfully. Strong business cases should be in process to take advantage of this heightened recognition of the value of technology. Start the discussions with your internal and external partners now so when the green light is given, you are ready to implement. Now is the time to be proactive and get things done. The technology modernization that follows will be the glue that will hold together government’s ability to serve citizens before, during and after the next crisis.
To close our thoughts, we are reminded of an excellent quote by the American author James W Frick.
“Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.”
It is time for governments to invest! Where they invest will tell us all where their priorities are. We believe it is always about the people that will need their governments to continue to be there for them no matter what is happening in the world. We at the Center for Digital Government are here to help you make that happen. Stay safe out there.
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