Upgrading Government's IT 101

Public employees are often resistant to technological change. In some cases, it's their employers' fault.
June 22, 2017
Man excited about having dual monitors.
In Westchester County, N.Y., dual monitors eased employees' concerns about switching to a new IT system. (Shutterstock)
Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is greenebarrett.com.

When employees at Chesterfield County, Va.'s Department of Revenue go into work on Monday and boot up their computers, they'll face a new IT system for carrying out their jobs. It's been in development for over a year, but the agency realized only last month that there were no plans to make sure the people tasked with using the new system actually know how.

“It was poor planning, but the department was under the impression that the vendor was going to supply the training,” says Kevin Bruny, director of Chesterfield County’s Learning and Performance Center, which rushed to help the department create a training program.

This is far from an uncommon situation.

A 2015 survey by Deloitte Consulting found that only a third of public-sector leaders around the world think their organizations provide employees with sufficient resources and opportunities to develop the technology skills they need.

“From many of our surveys, the No. 1 barrier to success with technology is organizational-workforce resistance to change,” says Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

Without proper training, that resistance to change is likely to persist, and any organization looking to upgrade its tech is setting itself up to fail -- or at least struggle.

“Resistance to change isn’t the exception. Resistance to change is the norm,” says Tim Maniccia, a New York-based consultant whose company, Policy Innovation, Inc., often deals with managing change in government organizations.

With the clock ticking until the new system goes live, Chesterfield County officials stepped into action -- and quickly. The Learning and Performance Center tapped experts from the revenue department who knew how employees interacted with the old systems, and the department used that knowledge as the basis for an online training program.

Of course, online training doesn’t work for everyone. It’s also critical to offer extra help for employees who need it.

“To say you must use technology to learn to use the new technology isn’t going to work for people who are not as tech-savvy,” says Bruny.

Bruny knows the training process would have been much easier had it started long before, as Chesterfield County has done with other award-winning projects. For example, its countywide shift in 2016 to the 365 version of Microsoft Office was eased by early meetings that The Learning and Performance Center had with all 45 departments. This was particularly important since some employees were using software that was more than a decade old. The county was also in constant communication with employees about what was coming, how it would impact their work and when.

Ohio has also taken an employee-oriented approach when upgrading its IT -- one that made it a finalist for NASCIO's 2015 State IT Recognition Award.

 

When the state began to implement a new benefits eligibility system, it tapped employee input at the earliest stage of development. “Readiness managers” were established in every county to train caseworkers, help troubleshoot and act as a liason between the state’s central  IT office and caseworkers.

“We learned from past mistakes and from watching other projects struggle through the process," says Stu Davis, Ohio's chief information officer. "One of the key things we were trying to get across is that this wasn’t being done to them but with them and for them."

John McCaffrey, the CIO of Westchester County in New York, echoes that sentiment. He says the county executive has sent a strong message to employees that their ideas for innovation and technological improvement are welcome and will be listened to. For example, when the county shifted its contracts from a paper-based system to an electronic one, employees missed being able to lay out multiple versions of contracts on their desks at the same time.

The county heard their complaints and started providing dual monitors.

“It was a simple fix,” says McCaffrey, but one that drastically reduced employees' resistance to the new system. “The biggest mistake that IT makes is not getting in the trenches with the people who are doing the job.”