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How to use a crisis to move towards digital government

Glenn Archer | Nov. 5, 2014
Agencies continue to view IT as a cost centre.


Despite often making statements to the contrary, many governments continue to view IT as a cost centre. Publicly they profess the view that IT provides enormous opportunities for efficiencies and saving as well as delivering better services to citizens.

Yet, in times of crisis, technology budgets are often one of the first things cut, with IT still expected to meet its service commitments with reduced finances. However, there may be a way for government CIOs to leverage a crisis to reposition IT as a key enabler rather than just a drain on the budget.

Over the last decade, many OECD countries have issued policy statements to deliver most, if not all, government services digitally. While this might be the objective, the reality is that constant budget cuts actually undermine IT's ability to deliver digital government.

This was particularly evident during the global financial crisis (GFC), with governments the only industry segment tracked by Gartner to decrease IT spending.

Gartner's IT Key Metrics Data for 2014 shows that, on average, IT represented 9.1 per cent of federal or national operational expenses and just 3.8 per cent of state and local governments. While IT expenditure may be significant in absolute terms, it is less significant when compared with other operational costs.

It is interesting to note that commercial organisations that have a greater level of IT investment relative to operational expense than their peers, typically view IT as a strategic enabler that provides better business performance, greater productivity levels and competitive advantage.

Government CIOs have, however, found it increasingly difficult to convince those in power that IT investment is important to the overall business. This is in stark contrast to private enterprises which is aggressively pursuing digital business strategies to transform their product offerings and improve customer engagement.

Finding opportunity in crisis
German physicist and philosopher, Albert Einstein, once said that crisis is the best blessing that can happen to people and countries because it brings progress.

"Creativity is born from the distress, as the day is born from the dark night. It is in crisis that invention, discovery and large strategies are born. Whoever overcomes crisis, outdoes himself without being overcome," he said.

Gartner defines 'a crisis' as an unanticipated and severely negative event that impacts on an agency's strategy, operations or mission. A crisis can affect multiple agencies and may arise from a political, business, international or societal source.

Organisations facing a crisis are often more willing to try radical solutions. This presents the smart CIO with a way to capitalise on the opportunities that a crisis presents.

IT leaders are very familiar with planning for a crisis. These plans are typically focused on how to support the organisation in an emergency, how to maintain operations when IT services are disrupted and how quickly IT systems can be returned to normal.


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