3 Challenges Tech Leaders Must Tackle to Increase Efficiency, Meet Constituent Expectations

Public and private officials looked to the future of technology in the public sector, honing in on three obstacles IT leaders face and potential opportunities.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Public and private officials looked to the future of government technology in a discussion about the opportunities and obstacles facing the public sector in the coming years.

The conversation, part of the California Public CIO Academy held Feb. 24-25 in downtown Sacramento, identified several key areas technology leaders should focus on when it comes to enterprise efficiencies, embracing the fast-paced change of technology and meeting public expectations.

1. Security

Security is a top concern facing the public-sector CIO, and is something that Robert Schmidt, chief of the Office of Technology Services, says remains a manageable but unsolvable problem in the technology space.

“In terms of things that keep me awake at night, I think most of us in the room wouldn’t argue about security,” he said. “I’m seeing security now as something as I can’t necessarily solve, but it’s something I can manage, and that’s what we need to do."

2. Emerging Technologies

The “tectonic shift,” or rapid development, of new technologies was a focus of EMC's David Nicholson. From his perspective as a vendor, the disruptive shift of technology of this magnitude has not been seen since the advent of the minicomputer.

“We’re sort of going back to this world of convergence, where that convergence is happening in both on-premises private data centers as well as public data centers, where everything is in a stack,” Nicholson told the crowd. “So, this is a once in a generation kind of shift.”

As new technologies become available to the public at large, Schmidt and Nicholson said the demands of constituents will only continue to increase. The ability to do more from mobile devices more quickly, puts additional pressure on agencies with limited resources.

Schmidt said there is often a disconnect between the creative process and implementation of new technologies and solutions. The fact that government agencies are often risk averse drives Schmidt to ask his staff, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

“Ownership is key. You need to find folks who are excited by the technology, are excited by the business problem and can actually implement,” he said.

Moderator Chris Maio, director of the 21st Century Project at the California State Controller’s Office, said even in light of more efficient technologies in areas like procurement, there is little that can be done to expedite more cumbersome processes, like the formulation of the state’s considerable budget.

“Even with these increases in proficiencies, we still have budget cycles we have to pass through. If I’m going to do anything major, I have to ask for the cash to do that, and that is still, as we all know, a long process,” he said. “I don’t see an agile way of approaching that yet.”

3. Allocation of Resources

Nicholson also noted that a challenge he sees facing his public customer base is mirrored in the private sector — resource allocation.

“We’re all resource constrained, and such a large share of budget goes toward simply keeping the lights on," he said. "When you start talking about innovation, innovation has to be funded somehow. So, it’s the concern about how do we foster innovation while keeping the lights on and, oh, by the way, how do we figure out how to leverage what we already have in the direction of innovation?”

Despite limited resources, Nicholson said the demands placed on IT organizations are not static and continue to increase.

Schmidt echoed that sentiment.

"The speed of business, having worked as a CIO for five years, business is moving much faster than IT can keep up, there never seems to be enough resources," he said. "So we need to figure out how do we best partner with the business, how do we gain their trust? Through that trust we can gain additional resources …”

But given unlimited resources, Schmidt said he would implement programmable data centers and scalable server systems as a valuable resource for state agencies, as well as standardize, centralize and consolidate software and services on a statewide basis.

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.