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With applications now offered as cloud-only services, many local government IT executives said they felt they had little choice but to move to the cloud.
Local IT executives feel they have little choice but to migrate services and applications to the cloud, according to a survey released last week.
With vendors and cloud service providers offering more applications in cloud-only versions, IT leaders said they have been forced to move to the cloud, especially when on-premises versions are being phased out or no longer supported.
Cloud adoption has continued to accelerate, according to the CompTIA Public Technology Institute’s (PTI) State of City and County IT National Survey: 46% said they have moved on-prem infrastructure to a private cloud, while 43% have moved that infrastructure to a public cloud.
Alan Shark, PTI’s executive director, said it makes sense for smaller jurisdictions to move the cloud, but larger cities and counties that may have just built new data centers or other on-site infrastructure may stay on-prem for at least the time being. A hybrid approach that uses cloud and on-prem may be the best approach for many jurisdictions, especially moving some “low-hanging fruit” like email servers to the cloud, Shark said.
“The business decision [of moving to the cloud] should be predicated on cost—expense and labor—and the ability to comply with all known regulations to provide the most secure environment,” Shark said. “You [calculate] the return on investment, and it may lead you in different directions.”
Cybersecurity remains the biggest priority for IT executives, a finding consistent with the previous nine iterations of this survey as local governments look to the cloud to help prevent cyberattacks.
Meanwhile, more than half said they also expect to see their IT budgets increase by at least 5% in the next fiscal year, with another 32% expecting a jump of between 1% and 4%.
The survey said the portion of IT executives that expect big budget growth is a “significant increase” from previous polls. But those build ups may still be inadequate to face growing cyberthreats.
Other major priorities for IT executives according to the PTI survey is the desire to modernize outdated systems and apply new technologies to help solve problems. Almost half said they take an ad-hoc approach to digital service delivery but are moving toward an internal digital services organization to centralize services delivery, while 27% are currently ad hoc and unsure of their future direction.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the push toward digital service delivery, and Shark said that momentum will continue, especially as digitization saves governments money in the long run and makes operations more efficient.
“I think the idea of city hall is clearly shifting,” he said. “The workforce is shifting, and people's expectations are shifting. When they call somebody or they go online, whether it be through an app, a tablet or whatever, they want to take care of their business. Governments have really stepped up and have done an incredible job, but it was hastened and accelerated by the pandemic.”
However, while some may believe government agencies should operate like businesses, Shark cautioned that the private sector is not as effective when it comes to customer service. Consumers get frustrated trying to find a human being to talk to when dealing with customer-service issues, and Shark said governments must be careful not to make that same mistake, even as they leverage technology to improve efficiency. Instead, an approach that uses humans in addition to chatbots and other tools might be best, he said.
These changes all come as the role of the IT executive has also shifted significantly. Initially, Shark said the role was highly technical and focused on technology and keeping networks operating. But now it has evolved to be highly managerial, both of people and contractors who handle many operational tasks. The ability of IT execs to communicate their goals with upper management and act as a dealmaker is also crucial, Shark said, especially as IT itself evolves.
“Given the expense and the complexity, we need higher level, better trained people who not only know and understand technology, but can also understand how to manage people,” he said. “It's still a people business. Technology is a bunch of tools, but … it's still a people business.”
Local IT leaders also remain concerned about the skills of their workforce, with cybersecurity proficiency a major priority, followed by so-called “soft skills” like the ability to communicate and collaborate with others. Shark said local governments should be flexible in their work arrangements to attract employees from the private sector and offer staff more professional development opportunities to build their skills.
IT managers “are not garage mechanics that are taking care of our nation's local government technology infrastructure,” Shark said. “This is a profession; they need to be treated as such.”