Friday, November 21, 2008

Finding Public Sector IT Best Practices

I never cease to be amazed at the amount of information available to anyone with the Web, a search engine, and some time to dig. There are huge bodies of work from management consultants which are freely available, especially for the public sector, where laws call for open access.

Associations for government agencies such as the Federal CIO Council, the National Association of Counties, National Association of State Chief Information Officers, local councils of government and the state associations are a great place to start. For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has published a guide on e-permitting. Harvard University hosts a site for government innovation. Portland State University published a collection of best practices that includes insight on solving traffic congestion and increasing public transportation ridership.

A great way to start a new project is with research on what has gone on before. We can learn from the successes and failures of others to increase the win probability for our initiatives.

I have posted a more complete list of resources here.

How to Save $1 Million Right Now

In our challenging economic environment, state and local governments are likely to face increasing demand for services at the same time as tax receipts shrink from reduction in property values and transaction-generated revenue such as sales tax.

To succeed, government leaders must think outside the box, taking lessons from other governments and from the commercial sector. What does this mean in practical terms, and how can agencies continue to fulfill their missions in light of tight of shrinking budgets?


First, I think this is a time to reassess priorities and cut spending on projects that don't serve the core goals of your agency. Many state and local governments can find $1 million or more in information technology funding that can be saved. For instance:
  1. Use it or lose it. Computer hardware and software don't usually improve with age. If you bought something that has not been put in the hands of users in twelve months, you are not getting value from your technology upgrades. Buy hardware as late as possible to get the most bang for the buck. A deadline can really help IT professionals and vendors alike to focus.

  2. Skip a generation. While I'm loathe to recommend agencies to sit on the sidelines while technology marches on, you must be realistic about your upgrade schedule for hardware and software. If you're only now getting around to Office 2003 upgrades, you should skip that generation and head straight to Office 2007.

  3. You may already own it. Be sure to check on whether you already own software before you rush out and buy it. Take advantage of your volume licensing with vendors such as Microsoft and use what you already own. There are so many products covered under these agreements that you may overlook something and then purchase another product with the same features. Build a SharePoint portal to keep track of your volume licensing agreement.

  4. Stop waiting for the bus. When you have a failed project, you know it. Don't wait until you have spent the last budgeted penny when you are concerned a project is not leading to a delivery. A stop work order will get attention fast.
  5. Improve requirements. Nothing wastes money more quickly than projects running amok without strong requirements. Bad requirements doom projects to failure and invite vendors to overbid in order to compensate for weaknesses in the solicitation.
You can also explore new technologies and approaches, such as cloud computing and hosted services, to find additional ways to save. Reducing the number of projects you manage will not only save money but will keep focus on successful projects rather than throwing more money at failed initiatives.

007 Gadget Coming to Your Conference Room Soon

We are more excited about Microsoft Surface than any hardware we have seen in a long time. It is irresistable to people of all ages and truly is a different way to interact with a computer than a keyboard and a mouse.

You may have seen Microsoft Surface or other touch screen devices on CSI, MSNBC, or even in the latest James Bond movie. Don't be surprised if one pops up in you conference room.

Infostrat has developed a number of solutions, and we are posting videos of them like this:



Check out our YouTube channel to learn more about this innovative technology.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Third Option

Today one of my clients told me that word of xRM (Microsoft CRM as a development platform) is starting to spread. He said that other state and local governments have been contacting him to find out how he is solving business problems with an option that lies between writing custom applications from scratch or settling for the features of an expensive packaged line of business solution.

With budgets tightening around the world, government agencies need more cost effective ways to address the needs of constituents. Could xRM be part of the solution? My clients think the answer is yes.

Even as deficits rise, especially as economic conditions worsen, the demands for government services will continue to grow. This is true at all levels of government, but particularly for local government, because it touches citizens directly. Local government must respond to demands for services, and budget shortfalls are not a sufficient excuse not to take action.

I suggest that before the New Year you catalog your backlog of unfulfilled requests for software projects, adding projects that are not moving fast enough to deployment. Then ask yourself which would be good candidates for implementing the xRM way. A quick pilot will help you prove the concept so you can take advantage of this Third Option.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Getting Your Feet Wet in the Cloud

When it comes to new technology, the first time is often the most difficult. I remember my reluctance to give up bank tellers and try the ATM, or even the way I used to get a receipt printed every time I paid for fuel with a credit card at the pump.

It took me a long time to trust online transactions, but eventually I became comfortable forking over payments to companies I had known only since my last web search. Now I'm much more likely to buy online than at a store.

So it will be with cloud computing. The first transaction will involve the greatest deliberation, consideration and worry. If the experience is positive, more forays will follow.

If you want to test out cloud computing, find a few services to pilot. It's not hard to find something that is inexpensive and low risk. Go ahead and sign up to give it a go. Here are some from Microsoft that are worth a look today:

1. Office Live Workspace view and share documents online
2. Live Search Maps publish your collection of map items
3. Microsoft CRM Online great way to kick the tires on Dynamics CRM
4. Office Live Small Business create websites and market your company

Some of these services are free and most offer free trials. So keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the clouds.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cloud Computing Excuses

I have been conducting an informal poll on cloud computing around my office and with consultants from other information technology consulting firms. I start by asking about the recent cloud computing announcements from Microsoft and other market leaders.

Everyone I have spoken to tells me they are excited about cloud computing and want to learn more about it. Microsoft's investment in development of cloud computing infrastructure makes it more legitimate and puts it in reach of more developers. Even my government customers tell me cloud computing is interesting and the shape of things to come.

Then I ask "who do you know who is using cloud computing today?" and I get a blank stare. I hear about some major customers cited by the vendors but none of my contacts knows real, live customers personally who are betting on cloud computing.

Part of the problem is that we are still waiting for the technology and the business model to solidify. Microsoft allows developers to use an early version of their offering, and the product will ship in the second half of 2009. Pricing was just announced last week, and the service will be available direct from Microsoft and through independent software vendors.

But I also hear something that sounds a bit like "not in my neighborhood." For instance, large companies won't need to go to the cloud since they already have large investments in IT infrastructure. Government will keep data onsite to protect security and privacy. The people I talk to say small business is the perfect early adopter, especially small businesses that don't want to maintain an IT infrastructure of their own.

Email is the most obvious to move to a service provider, but there are objections there as well. Where does a great deal of confidential information reside? Email, naturally. Which server outage would cause the greatest disruption at your company? Email again. I only know two companies who outsourced email. One is happy and one swears never again.

I also heard objections about potential legal issues for commercial customers. What happens when a company is involved in a lawsuit? Who guarantees that proper record retention policies are followed? Would law firms themselves be good customers for hosted computing services?

As a headline in the Washington Post this morning said, the outlook for computing is cloudy. It will take time to find out whether that means cloud computing is for you and your organization.