Government CIOs Aim for Status Quo, not Innovation


The government's track record on IT just isn't very good.


There are too many costly failures, like the Department of Homeland Security's recent decision to scrap a data-mining initiative after spending more than $42 million on it. Last week, in another case of apparent government cluelessness, the feds indicted two Texas men on charges of selling counterfeit computer gear to several public agencies (and, to be fair, to at least one private company as well).


Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is so fed up with his state's performance, calling it "inefficient and ineffective," that he plans to turn over most IT operations to private contractors.


At least partly to blame: a culture that values maintaining the status quo above all else. The "reward" for government agencies that cut costs is budget reductions, says Gopal Khanna, Minnesota's CIO, in a Network World story republished on Computerworld.


The sections of Info-Tech's 2007-2008 IT Budget and Staffing Report that deal with public agencies appear to confirm Khanna's view. Government has the lowest proportion of new spending of any industry sector, with 20 percent allocated for new mandated spending and 13 percent for discretionary spending. While government does not have to enter new markets or respond to the kind of competitive pressures common in the private sector, those numbers still seem low. Spending growth and staff growth also lag behind most private industries.


The Info-Tech report also spotlights trends in government IT spending that hint at a sector that is less innovative than most private industries. Government agencies spend less on notebooks, handhelds and other mobile devices, and more on servers, than other sectors, for example.


Other public-sector CIOs -- and many of their private counterparts -- could learn a thing or two from Khanna's eight-step master plan for Minnesota. Priority No. 1 is enterprise security (a common weak point among public agencies), followed by the introduction of new electronic services for constituents; consolidation of IT services; systems and business process modernization; IT governance; IT architecture standards and practice; information management; and resource management.


The state has made a good start by establishing an account that lets its agencies invest any funds they save into other IT projects. Using operational savings to fund growth initiatives is a smart strategy for CIOs in any industry.