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

environment.

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

committee.

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

agencies.

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

management.

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

concerns.

* 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

services.

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.

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