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Technology Funds Are Flowing: Is Government IT Ready?

From the extension of CARES Act funding to dollars from the American Rescue Plan, here’s how state and local government technology leaders can best prepare for and take advantage of new federal funding sources.

Closeup of a person's hands typing on a laptop that says "budget planning" on the screen.
The budget picture for state and local government was a roller coaster ride in 2020 and it seems to be even crazier in 2021. At first there was uncertainty surrounding budgets and now there’s an extension of CARES Act funding as well as the American Rescue Plan. What does this mean for technology spend? Will the money be directed to tech? If so, are technology organizations ready? The first step is getting the money, whether it is getting budget dollars from the executive and legislative process or vying for federal stimulus monies. But then comes the hard part. Every government technology leader knows that just having money does not get it done.

Technology organizations faced a similar issue with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds in the mid-2000s. Restrictions and tight timeframes for planning made it difficult to take advantage of available funding. Timelines for use of CARES Act funds were again tight, decisions had to be made fast and implementations done quickly. The extension of CARES Act funding provides an opportunity to revisit specific COVID-related projects. The latest and greatest opportunity has come in the form of the American Rescue Plan Act, where governments of all sizes will receive dollars that can be used to make significant technology changes. The rules are still being formulated and guidance will follow soon. The money is flowing, but how can you obtain and use the funding to make a difference?

As governments gear up for the influx of funds, IT organizations must formulate plans and strategies to ensure that they have a “seat at the table” as funding decisions are made. In order to provide the digital services that citizens expect and deserve, government technology professionals must LEAD.

L – Lead

This is the time to be a leader in enhancing government’s ability to manage remote work and deliver quality digital services. It means pushing the edges of what the team is capable of to drive innovation because having the money goes only as far as the ability to execute. Leadership also means collaboration with agencies and departments that you serve. As the federal funding guidelines are finalized, there will be stiff competition for those funds. The most successful technology projects are those that are prioritized and implemented with the full partnership and accountability of IT and the agency or department that manages the business process.

E – Empower

Strategizing and planning for technology initiatives must include fostering the ability of your team to develop, implement and manage the project successfully. Empowering your team as part of that strategy and planning builds buy-in and encourages innovation to flow from an important source — those that do the work.

A – Ability

Money and leadership will only get you so far. Building the right skill sets and abilities in your teams ensures that you can deliver projects and build the skills you will need for the future. Growing the skills required to implement new and emerging technologies while keeping the legacy technology running puts a strain on existing staff skills. Yet, new tools like artificial intelligence will soon be part of many government solutions. The innovations of today and tomorrow will require the right knowledge, the right abilities, and the right mission.

D – Dollars

Government technology leaders need to build strong business cases for the use of these additional funds to modernize applications and infrastructure. They will need to form strong partnerships with their agencies and departments to push new and innovative business processes enabled by technology. The push to remote work along with enhanced digital services provide the framework for the future of government. The dollars should be used to bolster what you have, modernize what you need, and kickstart new and different approaches to citizen services.

The recent pandemic has challenged governments in countless ways. The people in government and the people government serves have had to change how they engage while still getting what they need. Technologies play an integral role in government’s future and the money is flowing from the CARES Act and the ARP Act. Knowing how to LEAD is the way forward so be ready to take advantage of this opportunity.

A thought-provoking quote by Benjamin Franklin lends itself well to our comments today: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Money isn’t everything, but combining funding with knowledge and the right people is priceless. As always, we are here to help.