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Government CIOs should be brokers, not stewards

Public sector IT leaders can drive more strategic value by brokering outside services, not just maintaining internal ones

  • The pandemic is forcing public agencies to rethink existing IT operating models
  • Many agencies are experimenting with new, dual roles for CIOs
  • New frameworks allow government CIOs to broker new services and become more of a business partner across the enterprise

The global pandemic has forced government agencies to scramble to maintain and deliver services. It has also created a major opportunity for public agency CIOs—to rethink how they serve internal and external customers and pursue more sustainable long-term strategies.

Many states are giving CIOs an experimental dual role. In addition to having authority over delivery of technology services, they’re being allowed to manage, broker, and deliver other important services. This includes partnering across business units and departments to deliver and serve the best solutions.

The dual approach allows CIOs to build a framework for service delivery and support, and to offer visibility into necessary costs and resources. The framework can be used to manage, support, and deliver services that another business unit owns but the CIO is entrusted with. This helps CIOs build trust and confidence with other leaders across the enterprise, and helps shift the focus from tactical and reactive tasks to more strategic and proactive priorities.

What ‘CIO as broker’ really means

In the private sector, the CIO as broker model isn’t new. Over the last decade, as more IT operations have shifted to the cloud, tech leaders were able to choose the right internal services to deliver—for example, maintaining an on-prem database—and which to farm out to cloud providers, such as email or threat detection. In IT parlance, it’s known as Multi-Sourcing Service Integration (MSI) or Service Integration and Management (SIAM).

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this trend. Yet despite rapidly growing state government IT budgets in the U.S.—they totaled about $108 billion in 2019, up from $97 billion in 2015—many public agencies are still in the early stages of adopting more modern service delivery models.

One consequence of budget windfalls in recent years is a lack of visibility into where all that money went. As a result, CIOs are forced to estimate the cost of each IT service they provide. Another problem is that IT services are often siloed within each agency. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services may have very different apps and support desk services from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The outgrowth is that some CIOs resort to a “peanut butter spread” exercise: Take the total cost of services and spread it across the total number of users.

This is not an efficient or accurate way to manage costs. Instead, modern CIOs should create a centralized repository of all internally delivered and externally managed IT services, and let department heads choose the ones they need from a single catalog. This helps technology leaders to see whether supporting Fish and Wildlife employees costs three times as much as supporting those from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

By acting more as brokers, CIOs can make better decisions about which services to consolidate and which ones to modernize. They can simplify procurement and reduce costs by eliminating redundancy, which is especially critical now as government budgets shrink.

More important, this approach can accelerate the transformation to a fully digital government, enabling state and local officials to deliver vital services to citizens at a time when they’re needed most.

How to be a broker

Implementing process change on a governmental scale is notoriously difficult. Many state and local governments still lack visibility into their own operations and what they cost.

The best way to get started is to have a conversation with the owner or manager of each service within an agency (such as HR or facilities) about what they’re doing now and what they hope to achieve. There are three simple steps.

1. Do a quick-and-dirty audit

Identify the services you’re currently offering, internally and to other agencies. Make a list of every IT service needed by every department, agency, and sub-agency, such as email delivery, router configurations, and security incident response. CIOs can use tools like a Common Services Data Model (CSDM) to help map business capabilities to underlying technical applications and achieve a consistent measure of services in each entity.

2. Break down the costs

The next step is to break out what each of these services costs at a granular level. How many people does each service support? What does it cost to deliver these services? How expensive is it to support them?

3. Assess your demand backlog

Once you have those figures, look at your demand backlog—the services you’ve committed to delivering but haven’t yet managed to get to, as well as each department’s wish list for the future. That will help identify the greatest opportunities for creating economies of scale. Can you procure a single helpdesk application that serves every department?

[Read also: Reinvent government, one workflow at a time]

Finally, you’ll have to prove the approach works by applying it to your own department—consolidating and modernizing core internal services, and then using those efficiency gains and cost reductions to demonstrate value to other agencies.

At my company, ServiceNow, efforts at adopting brokerage models are already yielding big results:

  • By implementing our IT service management platform, Utah’s Department of Technology Services slashed support call volume by 80%, saving $1.2 million annually.
  • After adopting ITSM, Washington State’s health department cut service delivery time in half and boosted its customer satisfaction scores by 17%.
  • California’s Riverside County was able to consolidate eight separately held desk systems into a cloud-based platform, slashing wait times for service by nearly 90%.

Upgrading the citizen experience

For all public-sector CIOs, the most important goal is to deliver better services for citizens. Today, when people need to meet with a counselor at Health and Human Services, file for unemployment insurance, or renew a driver’s license, they often must provide the same information to each agency. There’s no digital front door they can walk through to get all their needs met at once.

These experiences are frustrating for citizens and costly for governments to deliver. That needs to change. By accelerating technology transformation, the CIO-as-broker model can help elected officials and their constituents realize the full potential of digital government.