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IT and the Metrics That Really Matter

CIOs need to develop better ways to measure how technology is affecting government outcomes.

There's little doubt that government's already substantial investment in information technology is going to continue to grow as public agencies look for ways to streamline processes, engage with citizens and achieve social outcomes. Chief information officers are going to be required to show not only that IT funds are being expended effectively but also that these resources are driving outcomes that government and the public care about. Consider this question: If you were to invest $1 in a parks program and $1 in the IT department, which would provide a greater return?

Questions like that are going to take on even more importance with the emergence of new technologies (think about drones and self-driving cars), new platforms (consider Bitcoin and the future of digital currency), and new tools (such as predictive analytics and the emerging field of algorithmic regulation).

Over the last six months, I have interviewed more than two dozen CIOs and other IT executives across all levels of government on the state of IT metrics for performance management in the public sector. The findings from these interviews are summarized in a new report published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

In the report, I offer three overarching recommendations to help CIOs begin to develop meaningful metrics for their organizations or to improve the ones they already use:

• CIOs should engage stakeholders -- both internal and external ones -- in creating logic models that outline and trace the impact of IT assets to intermediate outputs and ultimately to outcomes that matter. In doing so, CIOs should engage with clients to develop client-specific metrics. They also should strive to gather input to gain a better understanding of how IT is perceived by stakeholders.

• CIOs should develop networks to share data on IT performance, both internally and with other communities with similar populations, industries, demographics or needs. These networks offer CIOs an opportunity to gain insights about experiences, challenges and good ideas; benchmark or compare metrics; and gain buy-in for specific initiatives or projects. Currently, CIO networks at the local level are underdeveloped. Where we have seen these networks utilized, CIOs have used them as learning opportunities and are doing much better in utilizing metrics to improve performance.

• CIOs need to work creatively to arrive at innovation metrics. In my research, I found a general lack of metrics to capture innovations associated with IT. CIOs are innovating and have anecdotal evidence to share, but they lack quality methods to measure those innovations. While metrics around innovation are inherently difficult to define and establish, they are needed more than ever. Creativity and constant refinement are essential.

As technology continues to develop, the level of IT innovation will become even more of a key differentiator among governments, particularly across local jurisdictions striving to streamline operations and create sustainable neighborhoods and resilient communities. A key question that will be asked of CIOs is how their investments in technology measure up. Clearly, they are going to need to be able to answer that question.

A professor at Queensland University of Technology's QUT Business School
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