Can IT save government? Perhaps with a better budget

Summary:Government techies should focus on non-IT productivity if they want a better budget. Why? Government needs to replace manual labor---and the people that go with them---with IT.

ORLANDO, Fla.---If you think you had a tough technology budget cycle, just try being a government exec these days.

At the Gartner Symposium Sunday, there were a bevy of presentations about government and IT.

As noted on Smart Planet, Gartner analyst Andrea Di Maio defined smart city efforts vs. smart government efforts. The upshot is that government IT spending is trying to get beyond the political cycle and do more long-term planning. You know the buzzwords by now e-government, Web 2.0, consumerization and other trends are all supposed to add up to more efficiency.

Smart government isn't about the vendor pitches as much as it is about doing technology cheaply. Why is that important? Government entities are broke---and that's a complement since some are over their heads in debt. Since that situation isn't likely to change, governments need IT for sustainability---the financial kind.

The issue with these efforts all revolve around financial planning. Can you really map out a 5-year overhaul when Congress and the administration turns over well before that budget period ends?

Jerry Mechling, a Gartner analyst, argued that IT budgets may increase for governments.

Now Mechling's take is a bit pie-in-the-sky because it would take a heroic effort to get the pols that control the budget to see the light. He seems to assume that CIOs can win allies and play the political game. Good luck with that. Here's the argument though:

It is the productivity-producing capacity of IT that makes it different and why it should be treated differently in budgeting. The "cut everybody equally" approach is widely acceptable politically, but when implemented carries a serious cost for governmental and societal productivity. To gain productivity, we need to continue the longstanding trend of replacing manual labor with IT.

While normal politics may of course slow the growth of IT and other costs in government, in many places it will be possible to better respond to requirements for cost-cutting by using the budget to look specifically for IT-enabled productivity improvement. The CIO should be part of the leadership driving such reform, but to succeed will need to develop allies among budget directors and other positions of power.

The upshot is that CIOs need a new budget game to reinvent government. In fact, government techies should focus on non-IT productivity if they want a better budget. Why? Government needs to replace manual labor---and the people that go with them---with IT. Cloud computing doesn't collect a pension. Replace Congress with IBM's Watson and then we're really on to something.

Topics: CXO, Government, Government : US


Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.