Saving Taxpayer Dollars

By Tony Kontzer Print this article Print

Government agencies are using information technology to deliver more value without spending more money.

As the fiscal struggles of the nation’s federal, state and local governments have deepened over the past several years, a silver lining has emerged: Agencies at all three levels have been getting much smarter about how they spend their IT dollars.

Government agencies’ growing awareness that they can improve what IT delivers without spending more will be especially helpful in 2011 as IT budgets flatline before an expected return to more normal growth. According to government market research firm INPUT, total IT spending by local, state and federal agencies will dip slightly to $156.1 billion in 2011 (down from $156.5 billion during 2010), before experiencing modest annual growth that will see that figure rise to $189.5 billion in 2015.

See also Management Principles for Uncle Sam

Government IT leaders hope that the penny-wise decisions they’ve been making are providing a foundation for smarter investments as purse strings loosen in the coming years. Toward that end, agencies and municipalities have been turning to technologies—or, in some cases, organizational methodologies—that can stretch their IT dollar while setting the stage for adding future capabilities.

See also Cloud Computing for Government

“If you have a strong story as a technology vendor or provider about how to spend the same dollar but get more return for it, you’re going to be well-received in government IT departments today,” says Dana Gardner, president and principal analyst for IT consultancy Interarbor Solutions.

In particular, categories such as cloud computing, IT support and analytics have emerged as areas where governments can make investments that pay dividends quickly by delivering improved functionality and business agility.

Here’s how IT organizations at three levels of government have been squeezing more value from their IT spends.


Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Forest Service was hampered by a disjointed IT environment that required each district office to provide its own IT support, overwhelming IT staff and leaving users dissatisfied. Also, the ineffective help desk setup was pulling the agency’s 36,000 employees away from the activities that had led them to join the Forest Service, says Dana Watts, IT specialist and customer help desk operations lead for the Forest Service, one of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s largest agencies.

“Employees don’t want to be inside, waiting for someone to fix their computers, or waiting on the phone for someone to route them to the right person,” Watts says.

To consolidate its help desk operation, improve the user experience and save money, the agency outsourced its Tier 1 call center to IBM, signing a five-year deal in 2002. The service improved things, but it lacked an online self-service component. Also, an inflexible contract forced it to pay stiff penalties for amending the agreement on the fly.

Once the contract expired, it was extended two years while the Forest Service searched for a new solution, ultimately again awarding the contract to IBM. However, this time, the vendor proposed a cloud-based solution that included components provided by subcontractors, such as an incident management system from RightNow Technologies. The new contract specified that the Forest Service would pay only for incident volume.

The results speak for themselves: Since 2006, the Forest Service has increased the portion of inquiries it resolves on first contact from 45 to 60 percent. And, over the first two years of the new contract, the volume of help desk inquiries—about 25,000 each month—has decreased by 10 percent. It’s compelling evidence that Forest Service employees are increasingly solving their own issues using the online self-service environment, which features a knowledge base of some 30,000 documents. In addition, amendment penalties have been all but eliminated.

Users aren’t just taking from the system—they’re giving back, too. Watts says employees are providing feedback on their support experiences an impressive 20 percent of the time, and that feedback forms the basis of quarterly configuration updates to the help desk system.

“They can actually see and touch the changes we’re making based on the information they’re giving us,” says Watts, who looks forward to squeezing even more out of the system as the agency becomes more familiar with its capabilities.

This article was originally published on 2011-04-06
Tony Kontzer is a freelance writer for Baseline magazine.
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