IT departments must evolve to remain competitive
The challenge of information services/information technology evolution has
reached the departmental level. The way such departments are organized and
managed must change.
The private sector, which includes large corporations and other profit-oriented
entities, has begun to realize this. Corporate reorganization strategies
have begun to address and reflect the modified IS/IT role within the business
No longer is an IS director or CIO solely responsible for the department's
direction and vision. Responsibility for strategic planning, investing and
implementation has, in some cases, been moved to an executive or steering
Along with chief executive officers and chief financial officers, these
committees consist of a new breed of IS/IT professional, one who is business-oriented
with a solid background rooted in technology. These individuals may carry
the title of chief information officer or chief technology officer.
Their duties have evolved beyond those of the traditional IS/IT director.
Instead of only being concerned with managing a single department, these
individuals are now responsible for corporatewide strategies with direct
accountability for the company's bottom line, service and profit.
Local government entities have not traditionally been in the forefront
when it comes to embracing IS/IT innovation and technology. Because they
are not profit-oriented entities, the funding to meet their needs comes
from tax dollars. In many cases, this has led to IS/IT departments that
are required to respond to ever-increasing constituent demands without the
help of adequate technological resources.
In addition, these public-sector departments are faced with new trends
that bring new challenges of their own. Three such challenges are privatization,
outsourcing and application service providers, all based on the idea of
private companies providing public services — services traditionally provided
by public-sector agencies.
Public-sector IS/IT departments are beginning to look elsewhere for
services traditionally performed by their internal departments. As executives
become more sophisticated in matters of technology, they become more aware
of services beyond the capabilities of their own departments.
Public-sector departments must do something they have never done before:
compete with private-sector vendors for the right to service public-sector
These vendors, sensing public-sector interest, are targeting this area
with products, services and sales calls. They have the latest hardware and
software technologies and can afford to remain competitive.
How do we in
the public sector meet this new challenge? The answer is proactive vs. reactive
How do we adopt a proactive management philosophy?
* We must modify our current relationships with our public-sector governing
bodies as well as with our user departments. We must become initiators
of ideas and proposals in addition to responders.
* We should revisit our department vision and mission statements. These
should be modified to reflect our new philosophy.
* We should have representation at a steering/executive committee level.
With this type of structure, we can make decisions at the government level
as well as the department level.
* We must keep up-to-date on new technologies and how others are using IS/IT
innovations in the public sector. We should learn from others with similar
* We should explore the feasibility of building IS/IT alliances and
partnerships with other government entities. Where feasible, we should share
costs, technology and applications.
* We should seek out and familiarize ourselves with additional sources of
revenue, including private and federal grants for local government and revenue-generating
As IS/IT professionals, we are accustomed to adapting to change in the workplace.
We as public sector departments must adapt as well. Our thinking must become
broader and more "corporate."
The new challenges presented by the private sector can be met with a
new vision and challenges of our own.
—Veal is the information services associate manager for Ramsey County, Minn.