Cross-agency collaboration urged

Operational efficiency and organizational effectiveness: How do state and local government initiatives measure up?

State and local governments' information technology investments have produced modest administrative efficiencies and financial savings, according to a new study. However, the study suggests that more leadership, better cross-agency collaboration and more accountability are needed to transform government organizations.

IBM CORP. and the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland conducted the study, released July 8. It surveyed 412 government representatives, primarily from the state and local levels, last fall and it was followed up by some interviews.

Respondents evaluated 11 initiatives ranging from IT infrastructure to portals to e-learning. The study found that:

* 62 percent of government initiatives focused on internal transformation, while 22 percent were designed to improve customer service.

* State and local governments made similar investments with similar results.

* Investments haven't helped reduce operational and service delivery costs or improve employee development.

* Investments in IT infrastructure/enterprise architecture and "e-workplace"/intranets yielded the greatest benefits, while enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management provided fewer results.

* Better information collection and distribution and customer service were the primary benefits across all initiatives.

* Lack of organization and business process transformation to support initiatives were the primary barriers to better benefits.

The study also found that cash-strapped government organizations are just beginning to rethink how they can operate more efficiently and effectively. In other words, they are figuring out how to get more bang for their buck during the economic downturn. "They've been looking at it and talking about it and doing some of that work. The real impetus to change is really bad times," said Kathleen Daw, a partner with IBM's Business Consulting Services group.

"The real purpose was to take a look at what progress governments are making relative to some of the initiatives they began," Daw said. In the 1990s, she said governments were making significant investments to improve constituent services. But as many states and cities grapple with budget cutbacks, they're only now looking across agencies and trying to tie initiatives together with a return on investment, while also setting and measuring targets.

She said that some entities, such as New York City, Utah and Michigan, were ahead of the curve in consolidating administrative functions and investing in IT to support that consolidation. "It really takes a vision and willingness to make transformational decisions," she said. "IT is a one of the building blocks to do that."

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