Modernization needs partners inside, outside government
Local leaders say they need buy-in from users as well as partners who can walk them through modernization.
As local governments digitize their services, they may need a partner to help them along the entire modernization journey, government leaders said during a webinar this week.
Local leaders warned that enterprise-level staff may be keen to forge ahead with modernizing IT at their constituent agencies, but they must ensure that employees of those departments have fully bought into the project, or else they risk upending operations and causing more problems than they solve.
Not every organization has a large IT staff or the resources to hire more people for a modernization project, said John Globensky, city treasurer for Grand Rapids, Michigan. Like many agencies, he said the Treasurer's Office needs a partner to “walk with us” from the start.
That means designing and implementing the modernization project, but then also being available to answer questions and offer support when needed. He said that relationship represents more than just a contracting opportunity—it means forming a “strategic partnership” with vendors.
“I don’t want somebody to come in and set up a solution and then walk away,” Globensky said during the webinar hosted by American City & County.
Cabarrus County, North Carolina, Chief Information Officer Todd Shanley agreed that a good technology partner is an “extension of our team,” but he said IT leaders must also get buy-in on modernization from agencies, especially if that IT department manages operations across the whole city or county.
Shanley said that without the user department on board, a modernization project is “really just us rocking somebody’s boat that was happy with how things were already working.” If a program is moving off a mainframe, enterprise IT leaders should make sure they set expectations for agency staff, who may be used to legacy applications that they could custom code to fulfill specific needs.
Now, he said his IT staff prefer to buy products or services off the shelf that can then be configured, as custom coding on mainframes is “not sustainable.”
Besides technology changes, modernization efforts also require a culture shift, said Mike Hammond, criminal court clerk for Knox County, Tennessee. Hammond said when he was elected to the position in 2014 after years in the private sector, some employees were still working on typewriters, which he said left him “shocked at how far behind we were” and frustrated residents who wanted to quickly pay their court costs.
Hammond said it took a “collective effort on all of our parts” to move toward digital services and away from “clunky” antiquated systems. “Every dollar that [the courts] collect is important to us,” he said, and doing so more efficiently helps with that mission. Modernization also builds trust with residents as newer systems give them more visibility into where their payments are going.
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