All around the country and at all levels of government, the new year brings old and new challenges to state and local IT departments. I asked the top tech officials in Seattle; Catawba County, N.C.; Boise, Idaho; and Delaware to share what challenges they face in the year ahead. Their responses may ring true for some of you.
Smaller budgets will continue to plague their operations in 2012. What may compound that problem, CTOs and CIOs say, is the development of mobile apps and practices. Both citizens and employees are demanding they be able to use their mobile devices to interact with government, and IT departments will be working to make that possible with smaller staffs and on shoestring budgets.
In Seattle, CTO Bill Schrier is working with 27 fewer employees and $10 million less than what he had in 2008, but the reduction in resources hasn't dulled the demand for online services. "Everyone wants technology," he says, "so we're still trying to deliver on the technology service with a lot less resource."
The technology Schrier is referring to is the creation of mobile apps that citizens can use via smartphones and tablets to interact with government. The department did a little bit of development in piloting an app for iPhone and Android, allowing users to access their municipal electric utility accounts. "But we have to do a lot more work this year so people can get to information and render city services," he says.
To save on development time, Schrier says that the city hopes to deploy more apps via out-of-the-box software from a company called Connected Bits, which developed Boston's Citizens Connect app. The company offers "spot reporting" apps, allowing users to report graffiti, crime, potholes and damaged property by snapping a picture and sending it to local government officials.
Catawba County, N.C., CIO Terry Bledsoe and Boise, Idaho CIO Garry Beaty both say that the challenge in developing mobile apps is in providing support and security for them within their current systems. In Boise, many discussions about if and how the county could support such apps are ongoing. "It is just a very difficult issue," Beaty says. "And I don't see us getting additional bodies."
Bledsoe agress but adds that agencies and jurisdictions should look at app development as a "chance to rework a lot of our systems and provide more mobility and more services for our end users."
The challenge with mobile is not just citizen-focused; public employees want to be able to use their mobile devices on the job. In Catawba County, Bledsoe allows county employees to bring their personal mobile devices into the workplace, a phenomenon known as BYOD: bring your own device. "We have policies and security in place that has allowed us to move into that arena," he says. "For some people, it works very well."
At the state level, Delaware is working on a mobile device management system because state employees are increasingly requesting that they use their own devices. "And I don't blame them, because now with social media, the Blackberry just cannot interface well with the Twitters of the world, all the social media tools," says CIO James Sills. "There is also a huge demand for mobile apps, and the Blackberry just doesn't do the trick."
The state is looking at a solution that will allow it to manage that explosion in a more effective way, a way that lets employees use the device they want. Sills adds that the state also will create its own app store so it can see exactly what kind of apps are being downloaded to the various devices. "I like the control of that. I'm excited to put that in place and satisfy our mobile device users."
Allowing BYOD in Seattle is a litter trickier, says Schrier. "The iPads, the Androids and the iPhones that people are bringing in -- I'm really hoping that Microsoft will help us out with this with Windows 8 or something similar, so there could be a Windows 8 tablet that will be usable on the enterprise [system]," he says, adding that the reason that's important is because many applications are written for a Windows environment. "So they will work more naturally with a Windows environment then they would with an iPhone or an iPad, although there are tweaks you can [do] with that as well."
From talking to these CIOs, the challenge in 2012 is becoming more mobile on a smaller budget. If they overcome these challenges, the result could be positive for many -- a more flexible work environment for public-sector employees that creates a more responsive and interactive government for those who receive services from it.
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