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Local governments must address the needs of diverse and often growing constituencies with limited and often dwindling resources — following that age-old mandate of doing more with less. This predicament has forced the hand of many city administrations both big and small, leading them to elevate the status of IT to drive more strategic use of technology. To head this transformation, cities have begun appointing cabinet-level CIOs who are being given more power and more responsibility than in the past. This strategic CIO should take advantage of their leadership role to drive innovation, facilitate collaboration, provide centralised and shared IT solutions, and help save money for cash-strapped cities. But, despite the increase in responsibility, these CIOs will still face plenty of challenges when trying to get the job done.

Local government IT leaders must work across the city, addressing seemingly competing departmental priorities (and electoral promises). They must try to educate, coordinate, and innovate, using technology to get it all done more efficiently and effectively. They must address:

  • Varying levels of process maturity across departments: Some cities still run planning and permitting out of binders or Excel sheets while others use legacy business applications that differ in each business unit. In fact, only 23% of IT decision-makers report consistent processes, making it very difficult for CIOs to promote organisation and collaboration efforts.
  • Business decision-makers continue to see IT as better at support than strategy: Unfortunately, despite the trend toward cabinet-level CIO, still only 30% of business decision-makers believe that IT has strong business analysis and business process design skills. This makes it challenging for IT to be proactive in driving innovation in government.
  • Business decision-makers and IT decision-makers do not agree on how well they collaborate: 61% of IT decision-makers believe that their organisations collaborate with the business on business strategy and innovation, yet only 38% of business decision-makers would agree. Clearly there is a perception gap.
  • Varying top priorities: 53% of IT decision-makers listed improved citizen access to government information and services as their top priority, but only 22% of business decision-makers did the same. Meanwhile, 55% of business decision-makers listed process efficiency and employee productivity as their top priority and only 38% of IT decision-makers did the same. On a positive note, both groups agreed on their number two priority of cutting costs to help balance the budget.

Strategic city CIOs can’t let these challenges deter their efforts. Instead, they must embrace their leadership role and use it to promote improvement and innovation throughout the government. In order to do so, they will first need to create stronger ties to government business leaders and promote a more strategic role for IT in pursuing government innovation.

IT leaders must educate the business on the value of IT, and create advocates. One of the biggest challenges for CIOs is the lack of understanding and appreciation of the IT department from business decision-makers. By working to educate them about what can be done through IT initiatives, CIOs increase the chances of earning their support and respect when it comes time to make strategic decisions. Similarly, IT leaders must engage directly with city department heads to understand their business priorities. It is also important that CIOs understand the business priorities of the other parts of the government. By engaging directly with department heads, they can learn how IT is currently serving their needs and what new initiatives might be helpful to better address them. Finding common ground among diverse priorities will be key –the savvy CIO will be able to find a way to focus on multiple priorities with the same initiative.

For governments to most effectively leverage technology, business leaders and IT need to collaborate, sharing requirements and brainstorming ideas for joint solutions. By creating a council that includes both business leaders and IT representatives, CIOs can help facilitate this collaboration at both the operational and strategic levels. Collaboration and data sharing across different departments can benefit all parties involved, and can often lead to efficiency improvements or even increases in revenue. By demonstrating these benefits, CIOs can increase the rate at which this kind of collaboration is happening, thereby increasing the improvements and  innovation across the city.

Jennifer Belissent is a principal analyst at Forrester Research serving CIOs.