New shoes for the cobbler's kids

When it comes to getting funding for information technology projects, it's usually easier to sell ones that dramatically streamline agency operations or enable some slick or efficient new online government service. The payoff from the investment is plain for all to see — a feather in the cap for everyone involved.

The selling gets a lot tougher when the recipient of the benefits isn't the public or some high-profile government operation, but the humble IT staff, whose efforts are mostly invisible unless things don't work.

Like the cobbler's shoeless children, government IT departments are often at the end of the line when it comes to getting new productivity-boosting technology for use in their own shops.

But don't fret. There are many ways to make the lives of IT department employees easier without an act of Congress or a budget befitting a new space program. In the stories that follow, and in a second installment next week, we'll take a look at six technologies that can make a big impact — in the IT department and elsewhere — for a relatively small investment.

The best news is that these are technologies and products IT managers can buy and deploy today, and the benefits are there for the taking. They can boost the performance or reliability of aging systems, which, without the assistance, invariably become a growing drain on the IT staff's productivity. They can also cut system management costs or enable the development of new capabilities cheaply.

One example is the new breed of virtual private network (VPN) products that use the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol, which is the subject of our first story.

The VPN is already a money-saving idea, because it allows agencies to connect securely with remote employees and trading partners using the public Internet, as opposed to using an expensive, dedicated wide-area network service. Although SSL VPNs can cost a little more to buy than traditional VPNs, they are far easier and cheaper to roll out to a wider range of users, and they cost about half as much to manage.

You probably don't need to be reminded who gets stuck with the burden and the cost of managing an IT system once it's deployed (hint: It's not the personnel department). So, take a look at the products in these stories. You may be using some of them already, and, if you aren't, then maybe you'll find something you can use that can make your job easier. Best of all, you might not even need permission to do it.

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