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Government Execs Seek Move into Data-Driven Digital Future (Industry Perspective)

State and local officials nationwide are eager to embrace digital strategies for core operations and new citizen services, according to a recent survey.

Whether they’re city managers, CIOs or chief data officers, government executives today want to align civic programs with the new digital normal.

According to a recent survey from Socrata, which was conducted among more than 500 technology leaders at the local, state and federal levels, government officials nationwide are eager to embrace digital strategies for core operations and new citizen services.

Among the key findings of the survey:

  • 40 percent of respondents’ software is mostly on local machines, and 39 percent is entirely on local machines; this represents a major opportunity for digital growth.
  • There is opportunity for cloud-based technology at just about all levels of government, but the largest opportunity lies at the county level: 47 percent of all technology at the this level is almost entirely installed on local machines or on local or internal networks. 
  • A majority of those with technology decision-making power (55 percent) want their software to be based in the cloud, and another 20 percent are open to it.
  • Virtually all (83 percent) say that it is important to have programs and software that are simple and user-friendly, with almost one-third saying it is critically important.
The move by government leaders and executives away from inwardly focused, silo-based information systems to multidimensional, cloud-based digital services — which are more cost-effective and designed to align with the professional and consumer lifestyles of mainstream networked citizens — comes at a time when the public sector is being forced to do more with less.

And it reflects the fact that the new generation of savvy, data-driven government technologists realize that having a self-serve Web site, Facebook and Twitter accounts, open data portals, smartphone apps, and other digital resources are only first steps in rethinking the government software "stack."

The ultimate goal is having an end-to-end, digital-first architecture capable of delivering innovative leadership programs in the age of data-as-a-utility and the Internet of All People, Places and Things. This new Internet is already so powerful that by 2020, it’s expected to connect 200 billion machines, according to IDC.

In addition, rolling out these cutting-edge solutions is helping government leaders and executives — a new cohort of mission-focused professionals committed to aggressively embracing digital technology as a core service and operational strategy — improve the public sector’s operational excellence and economic impact while boosting the community’s quality of life.

Despite the digital advances that government leaders and executives are making today, however, there are still challenges ahead, and there are still practical realities as to how quickly the transition to the cloud and data-driven digital government can occur — especially within the framework of the larger enterprise legacy in today’s public sector. For example, governments still have existing databases, applications, networks and hardware that they’ve spent decades acquiring.

Many public-sector CIOs are also financially chained to the past. In a recent study commissioned by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and Infosys Public Services, a U.S.-based subsidiary of Infosys, nearly half (45 percent) of the state CIOs surveyed indicated that they are spending more than 80 percent of their budgets maintaining existing systems. As a result, they are having trouble freeing up funds to invest in innovative digital solutions.

This has to change. And I believe it will change, because as Rick Howard, research director at Gartner, recently explained, “The burden of legacy technologies in government puts innovation on a path of incremental improvement when agility and quick solution delivery is expected … CIOs must flip their approach to managing IT from the inside-out perspective of legacy constraints to the outside-in view of citizen experience. It’s all about starting with the digital world and what is possible.”

Government leaders and executives worldwide now recognize what is possible. They know that data is one of the most precious natural resources of the 21st century — the “oil” of our time.

And they also know that if this data is digitally harnessed and presented so it fits with the consumption patterns and expectations of the exploding, digitally native and smartphone-carrying millennials, who will soon comprise 25 percent of the U.S. population, it can help citizens and communities fully prosper for years to come.

“When making decisions about what software and technology we’re going to use, I have to think about what is going to be nimble and sustainable," said Detroit CIO Beth Niblock. "It’s not about just catching up to the technology of today, it’s about having a foundation to support the data and technology of tomorrow.”

Robert Runge is a member of the Board of Directors for Socrata, a cloud software company dedicated to transparency.