Local v Central Government IT - a tortoise and hare scenario from Gartner?

Gary Flood Profile picture for user gflood April 27, 2017
The public sector slice of Gartner’s latest massive global snapshot of CIO life reveals a vertical lagging other industries in terms of top delivery – with local government scoring some higher marks than their central counterparts.


tortoise and hare
The vast majority – 95% - of government organizations operate at only average or worse-than-average performance levels compared to other industries – and government CIOs tend not to partner with start-ups and mid-size companies, depriving themselves on exposure to new ideas, skills and technologies.

Those conclusions are based on Gartner’s annual research dialogue with CIOs from many sectors, including the public/government. For the 2017 run, 2,598 CIOs from 93 countries, representing $9.4 trillion in revenue or public-sector budgets and $292 billion in direct IT spending, shared their views.

For the public sector cut of the survey, Gartner says it talked to 377 government IT leaders in 38 countries, with the majority in post at ‘federal, national or international level’. with  78 from EMEA (21% of the total), with the global total base controlling a sizeable $38 billion worth of IT spend.

That’s useful to know, as the study is very much about comparing different levels of success across multiple geographies, with aggregated totals and general, not country-level, commentary. With that in mind, what can UK based public sector IT leaders learn from all this?

Gartner’s answer to that question is to offer its scaling of what it saw in the global IT space into three tiers – top, typical and trailing, in terms of their digital transformation credibility (so you’d need to get a high mark for your answer to questions like, ‘How effective is your company at factoring digital considerations into strategy and planning?’).

And here’s the first bit of bad news: only 5% of government/public sector environments rated ‘top’, compared to 27% in media, 10% in finance and 8% utilities. The vast majority, 87%, come in at ‘typical’ and 8% ‘trailing’. Only transportation, manufacturing and education came in below the sector on this benchmark.

Gartner isn’t that impressed with this, noting that government is essentially ‘services’ so needs to learn from leaders in that sector to catch up. But there’s another problem with being mediocre; you get less money. The analyst group claims top performing CIOs can win more budget than their peers (4.6 compared to 2.1%, 0.9% for the bottom feeder IT shops).

Still, money there seems to be (remember, this is a global report, so includes jurisdictions not subject to eternal austerity). As a group, government CIOs anticipate a 1.4% average increase in their IT budgets in the next FY, for example.

And in a shock to no-one, the sector continues to do what it can with increasingly ageing applications, which don’t lend themselves well to ambitious digital transformation schemes:

On average, 54% of government core business applications were implemented between 1990 and 2009 - whereas 42% of top performers' applications were deployed in the same period.

Local government IT: in a strong position?

Interestingly, a lot of that growth isn’t likely to come at the central or national level, but at that of the Town Hall. The report is surprisingly upbeat about the local authority layer of technology, with local government CIOs expecting an average 3.5% boost in their funding in the immediate future.

Plus, fewer local government CIOs report having IT cost reduction targets in place (34%) compared to other sectors, and may be through the worst of the lean years already:

It is reasonable to infer that local government IT departments endured their most significant cuts to staff and budgets in the years during and immediately following the global recession… In local government, the focus has shifted from IT cost optimisation to business value by delivering solutions capable of transforming government services.

Another reason why the borough may be doing better could be choice of focus. Gartner reports that local government CIOs place customer focus higher in their top three business priorities than security - an order completely reversed at the regional governments (state or province) level. For federal or national governments, digital business or digitisation is as much a priority as security, it’s worth noting.

However, there’s a caveat that will quickly bring bring you back down to Earth, if you’re a local government tech practitioner boosted by this praise. While local government is doing better than central across the world in terms of IT success, it’s still “well behind” that top layer of performance in other verticals, Gartner cautions.

The central IT leader to-do list

Gartner thinks the local sector has pulled ahead of the central one in IT attainment terms by prioritising value over cost control while simultaneously becoming “increasingly adroit” in the application of digital technologies to citizen issues.

The best response from Whitehall and other national agency tech teams, it thinks, is to look once again at their core Enterprise Architecture (EA) models so as to deliver optimal policy outcomes. Partnering with internal business managers better will also help, the team predicts.

EA matters, by the way, because:

Higher levels of EA maturity indicate the organisation has developed an operating model capable of successfully achieving its intended business outcomes through data and process standardisation and by connecting service and performance metrics.

I'll leave it as an exercise to diginomica/government readers to decide how many Whitehall ministries could meet that standard. Beyond EA, Gartner has two other practical suggestions on how to catch up:

Adopt proven practices and lessons from digital top performers in the [global] public sector and in leading industries such as media, communications, banking or retail. For example, look at the media industry for citizen engagement with digital content, or study how the retail industry achieves customer personalization so that you can improve citizen experience

Focus on reducing technical debt through legacy modernisation, and make the case for new investments in digital innovation so that your organization makes steady, measurable progress toward becoming a top performer.

My take

The study is an interesting take on different levels of achievement both within the global public sector and inside it.

However, how seriously one takes the findings and recommendations does depend on how one evaluates the methodology employed. Not everyone will have precisely the same answer to a question like, ‘How effective is your company at factoring digital considerations into strategy and planning?’, for example.

Still, there’s food for thought here – and many sensible ideas worth pursuing for both ends of the UK public sector IT community.


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