Survey common internal uses of technology in a city organization.
- As someone who's worked in both the private and public sectors, I'm often asked how different managing technology is within a government organization. When I first joined, I was just as curious. Turns out that there is considerable overlap with how private organizations need their technology deployed and maintained. But it is also true that there are significant differences too. Let's look at commonalities and contrasts individually. A government organization needs all the traditional information technology tools to function internally.
They need high-speed access to the internet, email, every organization's killer app, productivity applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets, financial and human resource solutions - often referred to as Enterprise resource planning, or ERP, and tools for other administrative collaborative reporting and scheduling needs. Public agencies have been slower to adopt Software as a Service, or SaaS.
These are subscription based solutions that are hosted by vendors and delivered over the internet. The Reasons for Slower Adoption of SaaS include: less tolerance for risk although much of that risk has now been addressed, and special handling needs for sensitive data such as that stored and maintained for public safety applications. As a result, government agencies still maintain sizable data center installations. These on premise data centers mirror the private sector and need the same talent and maintenance.
Only recently has this begun to change as more public sectors CIO's embrace Cloud technology. In addition to these common software and hardware needs, government IT also provides services, such as help-desk, project management, and software engineering. Often constrained by cost, public agencies may have smaller numbers of supporting staff and less IT tools than comparable private organizations. The difference in market responsiveness plays an important role too.
Private organizations tied to the 24 hour cycle of the competitive marketplace have an existential incentive to fund IT at different levels. Public agencies need to be efficient and deliver quality services too, but they operate in alignment with community needs, not competitive forces. These were the similarities between private and public agencies with regard to IT support. But what about the contrasts? The first thing that strikes most is the variety of needs in a public agency.
While a private organization typically has a focused mission, such as selling a core product or service and every effort is aligned around that, a city government for example, has many different types of businesses to be supported. Just think about the major differences between such unique areas: as libraries, parks, utilities, police, fire, elections, public works, policy making, and planning and development. All these departments of specialized software and hardware needs, their service levels are all over the place.
For example, police may need 24 hour on-call IT support, whereas libraries only need support maybe between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M. Many of the administrative processes for getting things done in government are different too. Important activities, such as budgeting, procurement, and contract management, decision making and approvals, and process transparency are highly regulated and closely governed. Sure, this creates more bureaucracy, but it also means there are clear checks and balances an important taxpayer oversight.
IT staff are generally highly engaged in these important activities, this means they need to understand some pretty complex processes and governance to get their work done each day. Unbalanced, the similarities of internal IT between the private and public sectors are probably greater than the differences, but where differences exist, they are notable and important. When we explore external IT needs next, the differences will be greater.
Leading CIO Jonathan Reichental explains the function of cities, the role of technology in cities, and the different IT jobs available. He also provides practical tips to prepare for an IT career in city government, including tips on getting the right training, building a résumé, preparing and acing the interview, and getting ready for the first day on the job.