Earlier this week, I talked about what was likely going to happen to government IT after the elections in 2013: Basically your budgets are about to be slashed even further. Now, I’d like to talk a bit more about what to do to manage this problem. Some of the most frightening things you are currently dealing with (BYOD, consumer cloud services and huge mobile push) could actually become tools to help you get through this. You can’t stop the budget cuts, but maybe, just maybe, you can more easily weather the resulting storm.
Consolidation and Virtualization
You likely aren’t going to get much budget relief for new hardware and what you do buy will have to be tightly focused on cost containment and on the ability to provide near-cost recovery within 12 to 18 months. This means you’ll need to focus on more fully utilizing existing hardware or going in with other groups for large systems where loads can be massively co-located to get the needed results within the target envelope.
This won’t be a time for risks and you’ll likely want to choose vendors that have a strong customer satisfaction record (IBM/EMC), are politically connected (HP if Romney wins) or you have a lot of existing good history with. Given Oracle tends to mine customers for money and trades favors, I’d list it as the most risky on this cost-focused cycle.
I’d also suggest going with very large-scale appliances if you have the requirement to replace a lot of hardware and consolidate the related loads. Of the two vendors — VCE and HDS — that are shipping hardware in this class, VCE (the joint venture between Cisco/EMC/VMware/Intel) is domestic and likely politically safer than Asian-based HDS (Hitachi Data Systems). There will likely be a lot of focus on spending with U.S. vendors regardless of who wins the election.
You’ll want to think strategically because budget relief is at least 5 years out, so you can’t safely shift budgets from this year to next. In fact, you’d likely be safer taking a hit early because it is more likely you’d get away with it now than later where monitoring and requirements will probably become tighter.
As I mentioned in the earlier piece, budget pooling and collaboration will pay huge dividends and the folks most likely to get shot are those found to be inflexible, uncooperative and isolated.
Your Scary Friends
BYOD: This problem may have just become a major part of your solution. Buying new phones or laptops for government employees will increasingly be a near-impossible event, so enabling employees to buy their own safely becomes almost a requirement. You’ll have fewer employees doing more and if you don’t do what you can to keep them happy, the best will leave (job market for good IT folks is warming up) and you’ll be screwed.
The PlaceRaider demonstration of last week where an Android phone was hijacked and made to take pictures without the knowledge of the user showcases the need to set tight requirements and those requirements may need to exclude Android for the moment to prevent a big security breach. Products like Windows To Go, which puts an image on a USB key that IT controls and Office 365, which provides key software as a service, may be worth an extended look.
Consumer Cloud Services: These have been a nightmare for IT managers in both public and private sectors as employees move to get around IT and cheaply use them. One vendor, BMC, stands out with a workshop service called Cloud Boot Camp, which can turn this liability into an asset. You are going to have to embrace these tools, but do so safely.
You’ll want to make sure you have solid policies but that they take into account both natural behavior and that you may have volunteers who don’t follow policies (what are you going to do, fire them?) to contend with. In short, you really need to think through the implications and approach or the security breach that results could do a ton of damage.
Mobile Move: Being able to update aging offices and resources isn’t likely in the cards unless there is a safety issue and, even then, getting the budget will likely be nearly impossible. This means enabling work from home or using donated facilities from private businesses may be your only real alternative. Aging dispatch systems will likely force phones into play more often and you’ll still have those nasty employee-retention issues to consider. You’ll need a consistent approach and one that nicely dovetails with your BYOD efforts. But working from home may not be a choice for many organizations; rather, it may be a requirement. With travel budgets all but eliminated, implementing low-cost conferencing tools like LifeSize or even Skype and enforcing their use becomes a requirement.
Wrapping Up: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
It is going to be a tough 2 to 4 years in the public sector, but there are new tools you can use to massively cut costs. The problem is that many are not secure or reliable and your users will likely find them easier to get to than your own services. Getting your arms around this problem and proactively addressing it with policies, practices and strategies to gain the maximum amount of benefit, and the minimum cost and risk, will likely make the difference between exiting these hard times successfully or exiting your job.
As my old coach used to say, “It’s time to play heads-up ball!”