The Transformation of Public Sector IT
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The Transformation of Public Sector IT

Jonathan Behnke, CIO, City of San Diego
Jonathan Behnke, CIO, City of San Diego

Jonathan Behnke, CIO, City of San Diego

Public sector IT is undergoing a major transformation away from the traditional model of delivering no-frill services on legacy technologies. While private sector technology is focused on driving profits and competitive advantages, the public sector has traditionally been focused on delivering basic services in various silos with limited budgets. Public sector IT is complicated by the fact that it can involve multiple departments or agencies with different business models and diverse business and regulatory requirements. In recent years we have observed a transformation to things like mobile apps, digital signatures, 311 services, online payments, smart sensor technology, police worn video cameras, and online civic engagement tools.

"Public sector procurement has to evolve to move away from the traditional waterfall approach in contracting and delivering projects to an agile methodology"

What are the factors that are driving this transformation?

Consumerization of Technology: Consumers have become accustomed to online payments, mobile applications, integrated map information, and self-service solutions. Government has lagged behind the private sector in delivering digital services. Constituents have expectations to receive digital services from government in the same way they receive services from their financial institutions or order items from Amazon. The expectations of constituents are driving the public sector to deliver more digital government services that are available 24/7.

Cloud Services: Cloud service providers have expanded their solutions to meet government requirements and provide agility and flexibility to the public sector that has not existed before. Virtualized systems can now easily be moved to cloud providers with little impact to end users. Legacy applications can be moved to XaaS solutions and the silos that once existed can more easily be moved to standardized solutions that can meet requirements for multiple agencies and benefit from economies of scale.

Internet of Things (IoT): Public sector infrastructure can incorporate smart technologies and sensors to manage traffic and transportation more efficiently instead of simply building more roads. When a component fails in a monitored system it can automatically generate a work order instead of the repair waiting until a citizen or field worker reports the problem. Sensors can improve parking, provide smart street lighting, and reduce energy consumption. Investments in IoT have great potential to reduce costs, drive efficiencies, and improve overall services to citizens.

Big Data and Predictive Analytics: IoT can provide valuable data to do predictive analytics and will allow field workers to replace parts and components before they fail instead of waiting until after a failure to address an issue. Big data can provide decision-makers better analytics to ensure police and fire staffing is optimized for areas based on projected crime and fire incidents. Analytics can allow the public sector to identify areas with the greatest need and focus budgets on those areas.

Open Data and Transparency: Open data initiatives have exploded in the past couple of years and the public sector is partnering with civic groups like Code for America to provide transparency in government data. This movement recognizes that public sector data can be valuable if shared with the open data community and used in new ways. Many cities now leverage this partnership to provide data on budgets, zoning, code inspections, crime, parks, permits, contracts, and other valuable information.

Cyber Security: With the IRS, Office of Personnel, and other notable public sector data breaches, the challenges of securing data are higher than ever. As public sector organizations do assessments and audits, legacy applications often are flagged as areas of increased risk due to legacy operating systems, languages, or applications that are far behind in patches or secure architecture designs. The public sector has had to make application modernization a priority to reduce cyber security risks.

Optimization of Procurement for Innovation and Agility: Public sector procurement has to evolve to move away from the traditional waterfall approach in contracting and delivering projects to an agile methodology that reduces project risk and delivers major projects in multiple iterations instead of a big bang. Some organizations have also recognized the value that startups bring in innovation, cost efficiencies, and technology disruption and have optimized government procurement to manage contracts with this growing segment of IT services.

Open Source: The public sector is increasing the use of open source tools for many critical functions. Thousands of government web sites are now using Drupal and other open source tools for content management. Legacy systems built on UNIX are being migrated and virtualized in Linux. Big data tools like Hadoop, Apache Spark, and others are being used for analytics, reporting, and open data initiatives. The move to open source tools is reducing costs and driving innovation in the public sector.

The public sector IT transformation is in full swing and we can see evidence in new digital government initiatives that are beginning to align government services with consumer expectations and the advances made in the private sector. The new strategies will require investing taxpayer dollars wisely for long term returns while focusing on agility and maximizing efficiencies in the short term. These strategies will also require an ecosystem of tightly linked technologies to be most effective. Delivering the technology is the easy part. The real challenge for  government organizations will be to replace the legacy silos with collaboration and a unified strategy to reap the full benefits of the transformation.

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