IT code technology

What your business can learn from government IT

by Teresa Meek
When you think cutting-edge technology adoption, the government probably doesn’t spring to mind.

Let’s face it: The government doesn’t have a great reputation for managing its technology.

The latest black eye is the resignation of the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in the wake of a hack — possibly from China — of agency data that affected 21.5 million people.

Governments — federal, state, and local — can be big and clunky, and their budgets are limited to tax money that citizens don’t part with easily. When things go wrong, they go wrong on a huge scale (see above), which makes officials reluctant to experiment with systems that aren’t tried and true. IT managers also have security systems and labor laws to deal with.

But though they may not be in the ranks of a Google or an Amazon, government IT departments have been changing their tune over the past few years, trying to use some of the leaner, more agile processes that have worked so well for private industry. Here’s a look at some innovative government IT programs that you may want to pay attention to:

What will help boost productivity, while keeping your important information secure?

IoT comes to GSA

Believe it or not, the Internet of Things has arrived at the stodgy old General Services Administration (GSA). Though the program was created to save energy for government agencies, it is also helping with worker productivity.

Tiny sensors embedded in windows, ceiling tiles, and heating and cooling systems throughout their office collect information about temperature and motion, including traffic patterns in meeting rooms and corridors. When employees enter one of the agency’s buildings, they swipe their badge to reserve a desk or a conference room, and the system turns on the lights in that space, turning them off again when workers leave.

The system also uses its readings to turn on air conditioning in occupied rooms, though employees can collectively override it.

The smart system has saved the agency more than $7 million since it was implemented in 2013, and has allowed for better coordination among workers from the agency’s various offices.

The education department’s app store

From migrating to web-based VPN services to cloud-based email storage, it seems the Department of Education has entered the new world of work.

Yes, the Education Department is moving to the cloud.

“The mailbox sizes are tremendously larger in the cloud than we had on premise, and it was also cheaper, so it was cost-driven,” says Steve Grewal, Deputy Chief Information Officer for the Department of Education.

Additionally, the department also plans to build an “app store” for employees next year. It will include a slew of programs that help employees to improve productivity, but popular apps like WhatsApp will be off the menu.

Ultimately, the idea is to arm telecommuters with the tools they need to stay productive when working remotely, while keeping the remainder of employees connected within the department’s five buildings as they move around to meetings and work groups.

Tablets help local governments with emergency response

At the state and local level, where budgets are smaller, technology development understandably progresses more slowly. According to the public-private partnership Mobile Work Exchange1, 40 percent of state and local agencies are using mobile devices, while the other 60 percent say they aren’t ready yet.

But it’s not all bad news for local governments: 62 percent of IT managers have adopted a virtual desktop infrastructure to support mobility, and many are investing in security technology for future remote connections.

Agencies using mobility gain three additional hours of productivity a week from each employee who uses a device, according to the report.

Pierce County, the second-largest county in Washington, took a bold step and decided to try tablets in its 24 departments, each of which has different technology needs.

Make cutting edge technology a key part of your strategy

The government making strides to upgrade its use of new technology sends a signal to enterprises that its time to follow suit.
Partnering with technology provider AirWatch, it deployed 200 tablets for people working remotely. They were managed by a web-based console, which set passwords and configurations and could wipe lost or stolen devices.

The county also created an app store so that workers could access tools for emergency management and public safety. A damage assessment app, for example, allows emergency responders to track property damage.

Takeaways for the enterprise

Whether you run a small business or a global corporation; a public or private enterprise; a nonprofit or publicly traded company; or even a government agency, all organizational leaders face IT growing pains in today’s new world of work. The key, regardless of your organization type, is to consider your workers. What will help boost productivity, while keeping your important information secure?
Teresa Meek
Teresa Meek is a Seattle-based writer with 15 years’ experience in journalism. She has covered business, technology, health and culture, and has written for the Miami Herald, Newsday, the Baltimore Sun, and the Seattle Times. She has also worked with a number of corporate clients, including Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, and Microsoft.
1 "State & Local Mobility Map: Road to Mobile Readiness." Mobile Work Exchange. 2014.
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