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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

The evolution of productivity in the public sector

Constituents demand value, service, safety and reliable continuation of services, no matter what potential disruptions threaten on the horizon. Working better, faster and smarter is today’s mandate, so out of necessity, definitions of productivity have evolved. Software technology, too, must evolve to keep pace with the opportunities and challenges of the new digital world. Users want more from their systems, starting with greater ease-of-use. Personnel -- even those without extensive programming skills -- need tools, implementation accelerators, training portals and self-service interfaces that will turn them into power users.     

High expectations, limited budgets

Just like IT managers  in the commercial sector, government IT pros work hard to meet the expectations of their customers, the constituents who fund them through their tax dollars. But, unlike corporate enterprises with deep pockets or entrepreneurs with angel investors, government agencies face daunting fiscal challenges. Thin budgets, purchasing constraints and limited working capital make it harder to justify major operational changes, such as ripping out and replacing outdated technology. Resources, including IT personnel, are often stretched thin, and proposals for modernizations, upgrades and new solutions face rigorous scrutiny. Public sensitivity to government overspending can deter even much-needed investments.

Agencies' maintenance technicians, though, are expected to boost their organizations' productivity. They can’t risk letting assets, from school bus fleets to traffic lights, erode to levels that are unsafe or threaten continuation of services. Maintenance teams need advanced software solutions and the newest innovations, such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence, machine learning and business intelligence solutions can help manage assets and prolong their lifecycles. Keeping mission-critical assets operating 24/7 requires data-based insights, driven by AI, for faster, smarter use of time and a prescriptive approach to maintenance. Asset maintenance must mature beyond knee-jerk reactions to breakdowns and turn to a more efficient preventive approach.

Field technicians need fully integrated mobile solutions to help them access and capture critical information where they need it most -- at the job site. It can be tempting to try to deploy a bolt-on, third-party solution to be frugal. Eventually, though, such short-cuts reveal that lack of integration to the core enterprise asset management solution causes endless headaches, even corrupting the reliability of the data.    

Unfortunately, major IT initiatives can be complex, stretch beyond the allocated budget and deliver overwhelming amounts of data -- with limited return on the investment or actionable insights.  Government organizations simply cannot face such risks. This is why IT teams must look at the deployment plan for new software purchases as closely as they evaluate the features and functionality.

Five common obstacles

McKinsey's recent article, “Agile in enterprise resource planning: A myth no more,” addresses the vital need for end-to-end solutions -- despite the challenges that can interfere with deployment and achieving measurable gains in productivity. Some of the potential issues cited were:

  • Misaligned incentives.
  • Poor project management. implementations.
  • Lack of business-IT integration.
  • Missing the focus on business value.
  • Waterfall methodology.

These obstacles don’t have to derail IT projects, nor keep public-sector organizations from taking advantage of modern solutions. Acknowledging the risk is the first step toward taking precautions and overcoming the last-mile hazards.

Managing change and ending the need for modifications

Change management isn’t a new concept, but it is one that needs to be taken down from the shelf, dusted off and refreshed for the digital era. A major organizational change -- such as turning to data-driven insights generated from an IoT application -- can prompt a transformative shift in workflows and attitudes. A reliance on technology, particularly AI, can be unsettling for veteran team members. Even adopting mobile solutions for field maintenance can be an intimidating prospect for some technicians. Reluctance and fear can quickly sideswipe an implementation.

Many modern solutions, though, are so user-centric and intuitive that resistance typically dissipates once users experience the benefits. Tools that guide best practices, automate tedious steps and provide relevant role-based information to assist decision-making help win over even the toughest cynics.

Solutions that have built-in industry-specific functionality also help streamline implementation. The industry-specific features eliminate the need for modifications that can restrict future upgrades. Software designed specifically for the public sector will help government organizations effectively apply the newest technologies, such as AI-driven predictive analytics, with greater ease.

Advanced solutions deployed in the cloud can be up and running in months, not years, quickly achieving results. Such solutions can help agencies anticipate maintenance needs and extend the lifecycle of critical machinery, equipment and vehicles through attentive preventive care. Applying IoT technology can help identify early signs of degradation or performance failure, signaling that action needs to be taken.

Fully integrated mobile solutions, rather than third-party bolted-on solutions, can quickly empower technicians to make well-informed decisions in the field. They can also increase first-call resolution rates and improve accuracy of logging parts used, changes to the product configuration and resolution codes.   

Moving from proof of concept pilots to repeatable templates

Until recently, transformative technologies, like IoT, had to be implemented through one-off proof-of-concept projects that needed a host of consultants to tailor the technology, particularly around managing massive amounts of data and triggering automated responses. Fortunately, this is changing. Now, front-runners in software development are focusing on implementation accelerators and pre-populated templates that make it easier for users to apply repeatable models for AI applications and self-service business intelligence. No longer is AI a luxury that only capital-rich enterprises can enjoy. Government agencies, too, can use proven, integrated solutions to design their own data-centric reporting and predictive insights.           

AI is now available as a platform with drag-and-drop templates that empower users -- even those without programming skills -- to apply algorithms and machine learning concepts to discover patterns in data, drill into correlations between influencing factors and anticipate the likely scenarios. This is transformative technology, and it’s now within reach of any organization, even government agencies with humble budgets and stretched IT teams.

Final take-away

This new focus on simplifying implementation and improving productivity is game changing. Now, industry-focused software also includes tools for deploying advanced technologies such as AI, ML and IoT. These capabilities provide more opportunities for leveraging data and improving the value and quality of services delivered to communities. It’s time to step up to the generation of technology that works smarter, harder, faster.    

About the Author

Kurt Steward is vice president, public sector, at Infor.

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