Government runs on IT, regardless of who is in office

The nation is holding its collective breath over the upcoming elections, waiting to see what the impact will be on Medicare, the deficit and national economic policy. One thing that is not likely to change is that government will continue to run on IT regardless of who is in office, and administrators do not appear to be worried about who is going to win in November.

It isn’t politics but the need to deliver services on increasingly tight budgets that drives technology purchasing at the federal, state and local levels, according to one recent survey.

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This finding is the result of an effort to prove a theory that initially appears so self-evident that it needs no proof. “My theory was that administrations have an effect on government technology purchases,” said Kimberly Samuelson, director of government strategy for Laserfiche, an enterprise content management vendor.

So she sent out a brief survey to the company’s customers and prospective customers. The first question was: Will the upcoming presidential election affect tech purchases within your organization?

“I would say my theory was wrong,” Samuelson said. “Eighty percent of responders said no, the election does not affect technology purchases.”

The survey probably falls short of being a statistically valid randomized sampling. The 530 responders represent about a 10 percent response rate from a collection of contacts within a Laserfiche database. About 10 percent of responders were federal officials, about 25 percent were state, and the rest were from local government. But the lopsided conclusion is interesting, and at first glance counterintuitive. Many of the respondents explained that their IT funding was not dependent on political appointees or elected officials.

How can that be? Ultimately all government spending depends on appropriations decided by elected officials, from Congress down to the county council and town board. The answer is that the assumption was phrased wrong, Samuelson said. It is not a matter of buying or not buying technology, it’s a matter of what kind of technology is being bought.

“People buy for different reasons under different administrations,” she said. But over time it all evens out.

Her experience from talking to Laserfiche customers is that social service implementations now are “on the uptick.” But under a more hawkish law-and-order administration the emphasis could easily swing to law enforcement technology. And with deficit hawks in office, revenue generation and collection technology, such as land management tools, is likely to be popular.

The bottom line from the survey is that budget pressure is the business driver for IT purchases. “It was absolutely reducing cost,” Samuelson said. “Cost is the number one issue in terms of what they buy.”

And budget pressure is something that is not likely to disappear no matter who wins in November. Priorities might change from one administration to the next, but in guessing what kinds of tools agencies will be investing in come 2013, it is safe to say that it will be those that can demonstrate a return on investment. Vive le ROI.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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