MIX, the Metropolitan Information Exchange, recently concluded our annual conference in Albuquerque. MIX is a group of about 55 CIOs of major cities and counties. The conference is always good, not just for its presentations, but particularly for the hallway and brainstorming conversations about issues and trends in local government information technology. In this blog I’ll highlight some of the 2009 “down” trends in local government, and in the next blog entry, later this week, I’ll write about the “up” trends.
Some trends or strategic directions seemed to be common to all our governments. These included the need for executive support and leadership, the desire of our cities and counties to be “high tech” to attract tech businesses for economic development, and the need for a voter ROI or “voter return on investment”.
The “voter ROI” is perhaps the most fascinating of these trends, although it is really not new – its always present in government. Voter ROI refers to the need for information technology projects to improve the operations of city government and to translate into votes at the ballot box for elected officials. Just as the ROI in a private business is measured by the profit of the company, the success of a government is measured by improved constituent/customer service, and THAT in turn is measured by the satisfaction in that government by voters who elect their mayors, county commissioners and city council members. Not every project has a voter ROI, but at least some of them must.
Executive support and leadership for IT projects is related to voter ROI. Strong Executive sponsorship is one of the two or three critical success factors in all IT projects everywhere, whether in government or private industry. As MIX members shared their success and failure project stories, we saw that a CFO who was interested and continually supporting a new financial management system, or a police chief supporting an upgraded radio system, or a City manager supporting a consolidation of IT staff, are the key factor in those projects’ success.
Some trends are downswing trends – initiatives or functions receiving less emphasis and less funding. These include budgets, staffing of IT units, disaster recovery, “big” projects, travel and training. Every local government has been hit by declining city/county revenues and consequent need to conserve and reduce.
Last Friday I presented the budget of my department – the Department of Information Technology at the City of Seattle, to the Seattle City Council. The video of that experience is online here, and the budget is online here. We’ll be reducing our $59 million budget by $3 million in 2010 and reducing our staffing by 12 full-time equivalent positions to 205 jobs.
Other local governments are experiencing similar difficulties. Steve Ferguson, the new CIO in San Jose, reports that City has experienced nine straight years of cuts and reductions, starting with the dot-com bust which hit Silicon Valley in 2001. Steve Reneker, CIO of Riverside reports his City cut its technology staffing from 72 to 55 people and scrapped a VoIP project. Joe Marcella in Las Vegas has reduced his IT shop from 100 staff to 72 since 2002, all by attrition, along with salary freezes for executives and most staff. Other MIX members have similar stories, especially in California and Arizona where government in general is in more dire circumstances.
Besides staff reductions, about half of the MIX members are freezing salaries (at least for management) and furloughing staff for 5 to 10 days a year, which is effectively a salary cut. Most of us are lengthening replacement cycles for desktop and server computers and network gear. We’ve renegotiated or are recompeting telecommunications and service contracts.
Particularly troubling are reductions in disaster planning. This is primarily due to simple lack of budget because disaster recovery is not an “immediate” need. Disaster planning is one of those extras you never need until, well, disaster strikes!
Budget crises are a logical time to consolidate IT in governments and save dollars through standardizing, and at least one of our cities, Tucson has done it and one large county is planning a consolidation. But MIX members are also concerned about “de facto decentralization”. As the resources and people of central IT departments are cut, service levels will drop, and the line departments (parks, utilities, police/sheriff, human services) tend to develop “shadow” technology support. Employees who should be doing policing or running community centers start doing technology support because they cannot get adequate support from the IT department. Individual employees or work units start buying their own cell phones or computers. Individually, such costs appear small, but those individual purchases don’t take advantage of the bulk buying power of a whole government, or the efficiencies of standardization.
In my next column I’ll talk about some of the technology trends which are on the “upswing” in local government, including public safety support, cloud computing, social media (blogging, twitter, facebook), the “greening of IT”, and with a new emphasis on online services, accountability and transparency.
P.S. I also have the honor of being President of MIX in 2009 – 2010.