IT Budget Cuts Prompt Worry Over Unintended Consequences

Seattle CIO Bill Schrier must rank IT projects for the mayor to decide what to trim.

by / July 15, 2010
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Photo: Bill Schrier, CIO, Seattle/Photo by Amanda Koster

Local CIOs around the nation are struggling over what projects or services to eliminate in response to sharp drops in tax revenue. But some say it's tough to predict the ultimate impact of IT cutbacks.

That's the challenge currently facing Seattle CIO Bill Schrier. Mayor Mike McGinn has asked all city departments to submit Excel spreadsheets ranking their various projects and the employees connected to them. Using this data, the mayor will decide which projects and employees to keep and which to eliminate.

Schrier's job is to create the spreadsheet for Seattle's Department of Information Technology (DoIT), describing each of the agency's functions, the employees involved in these activities and their strain on the city budget. Doing this for IT is especially difficult, contends Schrier, because it's unclear what unintended consequences IT cuts could trigger in other agencies.

As a sample scenario, Schrier pointed to reductions in help-desk services.

"Let's suppose [agencies] implement Microsoft Office 2010, a new version of Office. There is a learning curve for employees. If you have a help desk that is up to speed, it can rapidly answer the questions and employees can get back to productivity," Schrier said.

Without this help, Schrier said, employees might waste time searching for answers online or asking other co-workers for help, causing productivity to drop. There could be other implications too.

"Is it going to cause a department to make an investment on its own, like to start its own help desk, and therefore increase the overall cost to the city?" he said.

Cuts elsewhere in the city often are clearer cut in terms of their impact on citizens and employees, according to Schrier. "For example, if the police department decides to cut out the horses patrol, [the mayor] has a feeling for how popular that is among citizens or how useful the horse patrol is in controlling crowds."

He added that the health of IT department budgets around the nation would pivot on each of their leaders' savvy with technology.

"There are leaders who see information technology as a cost to be controlled or minimized. Then there is the kind of leader who says, 'Hey, if I make more technology investments strategically, it's going to make my folks more productive and allow me to reduce in other areas,'" Schrier said.


Andy Opsahl

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.

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