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Government IT: Hot Tech Trends In 2016

Local, state, and federal governments are aiming to make their tech initiatives more open, responsive, technically up-to-date, and secure this year. Can they pull it off?

Top Priorities For State CIOs: 2016
Top Priorities For State CIOs: 2016
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

In ordinary businesses, IT decision-makers can identify the criteria that matter to the organization's success and respond with choices that best serve those requirements. Nobody questions a CIO's conclusion that one supplier is more trustworthy than another, even if that supplier charges more. If a strategy turns out to be harebrained instead of innovative, it's rarely a scandal. The business has the freedom -- and the responsibility -- to make its own mistakes.

Governments, on the other hand, are supposed to be accountable to their citizens. Each technology decision, whether made by a federal government or a rural town council, is beholden to the citizenry that government branch serves. Such entities have little control over the budget, and they need to be transparent in everything from purchasing decisions to data management. The situation hands government IT unique challenges, especially in regard to gazing into crystal balls (which the department had to requisition from another department, or purchase from the lowest-price bid).

For instance, in 2015 the US government announced a new "smart cities" initiative, investing more than $160 million in federal research and leveraging more than 25 new technology collaborations to help local communities. Among them are several projects that require IT leadership and technical support:

  • Creating test beds for Internet of Things (IoT) applications
  • Collaborating with the civic tech movement
  • Sharing existing federal technologies, such as research on sensor networks and investments in intelligent transportation systems

As government organizations venture forth in the next 12 months, these are the issues influencing their planning and the consequences on their IT departments -- and, oh yeah, on the citizens they were appointed to serve.

What Makes Government IT Different?

Government computing has to accomplish all that's expected of a complex overworked organization, including long-term strategic planning and coping with day-to-day security vulnerabilities. It's expected to lead initiatives that private industry lacks the authority to take on. It's got to accomplish that with the limited budgets provided by US citizens, who really don't want to pay any more taxes than they have to.

Other than that … no problem.

The priorities for government IT vary as much as they do for enterprise IT. Some government agencies are small; others run the country. In the largest sphere, the biggest changes to expect in 2016, according to Forrester analysts Rick Parrish and Jennifer Belissent, are in customer experience, mobility, big data, and digital government. Last year, "Agencies had particular success adding to their [customer experience] toolkits, rolling out new mobile apps, and embracing data transparency and agile interagency collaboration for digital government," according to their report, "Predictions 2016: The Government's Slow Progress," which covers federal IT trends.

[Should government have access to consumer encryption keys? Read Encryption Debate: 8 Things CIOs Should Know.]

It might be a slightly different scene for state governments and municipal agencies. "State and local IT leaders are dealing with years of pent-up demand and are now focused on numerous new initiatives," said Rock Regan, director of public sector and education practice groups at Kronos. Regan has more than 20 years of experience in improving public-sector services, including stints as the State of Connecticut's first CIO and as the president of the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO). For state and local leaders, Regan said, the priorities often highlighted are security, cloud, consolidation, and big data/analytics.

(Image: Nihat Dursun/iStockphoto)

(Image: Nihat Dursun/iStockphoto)

But those aren't the only issues government IT experts are expecting to be on the table this year.

More Focus on Security Than Ever

Let's get this obvious item out of the way: The breach of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) changed the priority of IT security in government organizations. It used to be something that only security professionals cared about. The OPM breach made it personal, since it affected millions of government employees and contractors.

Plenty has been done already to address government IT security, and it should go without saying that more is underway. "The large number of sophisticated cyberattacks against government organizations makes this a critical focus area for IT decision-makers in 2016," said Matthew Hopkins, research associate at VDC Research. "Steps have been taken to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks, but there is much room for improvement."

Making Government Open

Government agencies are working to become improve their transparency -- and working harder than ever on it in 2016.

One reason for the urgency is the need to respond to citizens' technology expectations. "Citizens are quickly becoming accustomed to the convenience of arranging transportation with Uber, ordering and paying for their coffee with the Starbucks app, and purchasing their holiday gifts from their phone with Amazon," said Fred Damiano, chief innovation officer at nfrastructure. Compare that with your worst experience at the DMV, contending with confusing forms and long lines.

So, in concert with the Forrester predictions for improved customer experiences, expect agencies to focus on the Internet, mobile devices, and social media to communicate with citizens and to provide better services. According to Tom Ruff, public sector VP for Akamai Technologies, "We can expect to see more streaming in 2016, not only for citizen service, but also for other constituent engagement, including government workers. In addition to improving communications with, and service to, citizens, these technologies can save agencies money."

That openness goes beyond your local department of transportation tweeting about road closures or guacamole. Maury Blackman, CEO of Accela, which provides civic engagement solutions for local government, said he expects the open data

(Continued on next page)

Esther Schindler has been writing for the tech press since 1992. She specializes in translating from Geek into English. Her name is on the cover of about a dozen books, most recently The Complete Idiot's Guide to Twitter Marketing. Esther quilts (with enthusiasm if little ... View Full Bio

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