COMMENTARY

Are budget cuts a mother of IT invention?

Agencies get a sharp-edged incentive to innovate

Agencies at all levels of government have been looking to go small for several years, exploring data center consolidation, virtualization and cloud computing as the means to cut costs, reduce carbon footprints and make operations more efficient. In many ways, that seemed like the next logical step in IT management.

But as the economic downturn comes to roost in the public sector, IT managers have another, unavoidable incentive to innovate: significant cuts in budgets and staff sizes while network demands, as always, are on the rise. Sometimes, necessity can be a real mother.

The popularity of online services, combined with the economic and political environment, is putting IT managers in a bind, as Patrick Marshall notes in his story on virtualization and automation in this issue (Page 17).

“Citizens across the country are rejecting tax increases,” Curlie Matthews, CIO of Colorado Springs, Colo., told Marshall. “Yet at the same time, they want to have all those services.” Meanwhile, Matthews said, “we’re laying off people who provide those services.” The city’s IT staff has been cut by a third.

Colorado Springs is dealing with the shortage with virtualization as a way to provide more services with fewer people, and the city is taking the extra step of automating as many of its reporting and monitoring tools as possible. That’s partly to save on staff resources, but it’s also because the complexity of networks is taking manual configuration out of the picture.

Cost cutting can come in large and small steps. For example, Santa Barbara County, Calif., is trying to reuse as much hardware as it can, and it has turned to a decentralized data erasure system to help, William Jackson writes (Page 21). The system keeps equipment in circulation and allows erasure to be done in local offices rather than a centralized location, which also saves time and money.

Across the federal government, data center consolidation has become a primary means of cutting costs and reducing footprints. But as Rutrell Yasin reports (Page 25), it might not be as easy as it sounds. A MeriTalk survey of civilian agency IT managers found that they think consolidation could save as much as $14.6 billion a year, although the task is more difficult than just taking servers out of the room. To be effective, consolidation must be a part of a long-term approach to changing the way agencies use IT.

One of the hurdles to any new approach, of course, is the inertia of the way things are done now. In Yasin’s report, Bob Otto, former IT chief at the U.S. Postal Service and now with Agilex, talks about the importance of buy-in, of getting “server huggers” to give up their crutches. Buy-in is often difficult, but in these times, necessity can help make the sale.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

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