Think Big, Pay Less

Getting smart about technology in a time of austerity.

At its core, government's purpose is to serve its citizens. A constantly changing world complicates this simple idea with increasing global interconnectivity, cultural and societal revolutions, and technological advancements. To keep up, governments must evolve the way they do business if they are to meet the needs of those they serve. But without similarly dynamic technology underlying its services, government will not be able to adapt quickly or economically.

In July, the Interior Department released a transformation strategic plan for information technology that outlines how it intends to leverage IT to save up to $500 million by 2020. By reducing the number of data centers and servers, switching to a single email system, and transitioning to the cloud, the department expects to deliver better service at less cost.

Interior's plan addresses the fact that as demand for computing capacity has increased, the government's capacity to respond has not. Lack of resources can force reactive IT solutions that maintain current systems, rather than drive innovation for improved services. But now more than ever, agencies must find ways to do more with less. They can thrive, despite the economy, if they shift to smarter computing systems designed and optimized to handle the perpetual churn of technological and societal change.

The Interior Department's plan and other successful government initiatives across the nation reflect three essential characteristics.

Designing for Big Data

Whether agencies are distributing health care benefits or recruiting for the military, they cannot make quick, smart decisions without the most relevant, accurate information. Government must collect, store, manage and secure all available data in all forms to build a holistic, integrated vision across institutions and sectors. By analyzing and harnessing information from all aspects of society, government can better collaborate internally and with public and private partners to improve existing services and pioneer initiatives that improve the way we live.

The Alameda County Social Services Agency in California, for example, implemented an optimized IT system to create a single view of its citizen clients and applied analytics to its benefits payment operations. The agency now saves almost $25 million annually by reducing benefit overpayments.

Tailoring Solutions

Not all government tasks are the same; the IT that supports them should not be either. The mass transactional processes of a transportation system and the security needs of law enforcement both demand particular features. Government IT must support specific work, but also be flexible enough to respond to changing needs, such as normal versus peak demand. This requires aligning each component of a computing system so it can benefit from unique features.

Norfolk, Va., had power-hungry data storage facilities that were rapidly running out of space. By integrating its storage infrastructure on a single, optimized system, the city nearly doubled its storage performance and cut power consumption in half.

Managing in the Cloud

Government must leverage the Internet for better access to and analysis of all information. This will ease internal processes and allow for more collaboration and sharing with other private and public organizations. In addition, cloud-enabled IT will give agencies options to implement services independently or through providers, whichever is more effective or efficient.

For example, North Carolina State University adopted cloud technology to address unanticipated demand for its computing resources. Through the cloud, the university was able to extend its resources throughout the state to other educational institutions, increasing the average number of students served per license by 150 percent without incurring additional expenses.

Now is the time for agencies to get smarter about IT. To succeed during periods of financial austerity, they must transition to optimized systems that leverage big data, are tailored to specific tasks, and provide quick and easy access through the cloud. With these characteristics, governments can work in concert with each other and the broader world to meet the growing demands of those they serve.

i> Timothy Durniak is the chief technology officer for the public sector of IBM's Systems and Technology group.

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